The U.S. Special Operations Command has about 67,000 troops and an annual budget of around 14 billion dollars. That may not seem to be a huge dent in the overall DoD budget (about 2%), but it greatly outnumbers the special operations budgets of other U.S. allies around the world. With deployments operating at high frequencies today and with operations increasing in places like Syria, what should we be thinking about in terms of the impact on U.S. Special Operations in the coming decade?
The Cipher Brief’s Brad Christian talked with Former Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence (and Cipher Brief Expert) Dr. Michael Vickers recently about this increasingly important instrument of American power, and the shifts in missions and operational challenges that lie ahead for ahead for SOF. The conversation has been edited for print.
Dr. Michael Vickers: The new big warfighting challenge for SOF is Russian hybrid warfare, particularly along the periphery of the Russian Federation. SOF can play a pretty big role because it may be hard to trigger NATO’s collective defense article early in a conflict when the Russians are engaged in subversion and covert proxy warfare.
If there were a regional conflict with North Korea or Iran, you would expect SOF to do special reconnaissance and direct action, and potentially unconventional warfare and counter-proliferation.
I predict that counter-proliferation will increase in importance as a SOF mission because of the threat posed by North Korea and other rogue states. It’s a tough mission, one for which our intelligence community has traditionally had the lead role, but it’s also an area where SOF has important capabilities to contribute.