The U.S. is concerned about how the dangerous environment is changing. To face these new challenges, Special Operations Forces must adjust their capabilities and focus, according to officials.
Special operations forces have mostly concentrated on counterterrorism efforts for the majority of the last 20 years. While that still constitutes a significant portion of their duties, new dangers like the pacing issues posed by China and Russia have made the strategic role of special operations “much less defined,” according to Christopher P. Maier, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict. As the Defense Department as a whole pays more emphasis to great power competition with countries like China and Russia Air Force Lt. Gen. Tony D. Bauernfeind, the Vice Commander of SOCOM, stated that Special Operations Command is “rebalancing” where it distributes its resources to make sure it can respond to a variety of threats. Special operations units can innovate and incorporate new technologies more quickly than other services, according to Maier. Having said that, Maier argued that special operations units need to be given chances to showcase their expertise outside of counterterrorism. “I think we’re in an interesting inflection point now where when some of the strategic decisions are made when the resources are allocated, I don’t have a … sense that in every case SOF’s voice is at the table, that SOF capability [is] being incorporated into that,” Maier said.