Monday, February 26, 2007

Another Empty Promise

A hat tip to Chapomatic, for linking to a great Michael Fumento piece in the 5 March issue of The Weekly Standard. Alert readers may recall that the Democrats have vowed--at various times--to "double" the size of our special forces, improving our ability to respond to the GWOT.

In his article, Fumento looks at the difficulties associated with keeping that promise. Expanding the ranks of SOF will, inevitably, mean compromising the quality demanded by our most elite military forces. For example, the Air Force's pararescue and combat controller traning programs have a washout rate of at least 60-70%. Of every 10 applicants who enter the pipeline, only three will ever earn the maroon beret of the PJs, or the scarlet beret awarded to combat controllers. The only way to increase the number of PJs or combat controllers is to lower the standards for those career fields. The same technique would be required for producing more Navy SEALs, Army Rangers and Green Berets, and members of Marine Corps Force Recon. At that point, as Mr. Fumento observes, special ops becomes less "special" and combat capabilities inevitably suffer.

Somewhere on Capitol Hill, there may actually be a Democratic Congressman, Senator or staffer who understands that SOF are trained--and employed--to be force "multipliers," delivering combat capabilities and effects far in excess of their actual numbers. But you don't achieve those effects by watering down standards, or cutting corners on personnel quality. Predictably, the Democrats have yet to articulate a plan for actually doubling the ranks of our special operations forces. And it's probably just as well. As in most matters relating to national security, the Democrats are great at soundbites and slogans, but much more fuzzy on planning and specifics. We should only hope that Democratic vows to "double" our SOF units are nothing more than an empty promise.

Here's a message for Pelosi, Murtha and the other Dems who want to play politics with SOF. I was never an operator, and my involvement with SOF (during a 20-year military career) was limited. Bit I know that our existing system for recruiting and training SOF works extremely well. Leave it alone. Set your sights on more attainable goals, like securing that Boeing 757 for Ms. Pelosi's trips to the west coast.


The Last Ephor said...

Would not an increase in the number of concurrent classes be a way to increase those numbers without reducing quality?

That is, if they are currently running 2 concurrent classes per year, up that to 3 or 4. The washout rate could remain the same but net/net you'd end up with more guys.

crosspatch said...

One mechanism would be closer screening of recruits and encouraging ones thought to be good special ops material to take that career path. If more of the basic training instruction personnel were special ops types, they might be able to spot good candidates and get them interested. This might also reduce the washout rate because you have the potential to have a higher percentage of more likely candidates than you do now with kids coming in off the street volunteering for special operations without a clue as to what it is all about.

So rather than lower standards of the training, you try to stack the deck and increase the quality of the candidates by routing more qualified individuals in that direction.

fumento said...

Thanks for mentioning my piece, but a version packed with hyperlinks that may be of much use to many of your readers can be found at my website:

redhand said...

Have you guys read about the new approach the SEALs are taking? The Navy has set up a "prep" school for would be candidates.

I am sure that former SEALs out there are of divided opinion on this, but it is supposedly reducing the washout rate without reducing standards.

baddog46 said...

A subject near and dear to my heart since I am a graduate of the Q course and spent 19 out of 24 years in SOF.

Lots of good ideas that make sense (Duffy, Crosspatch and redhand). Unfortunately, execution is a little more difficult.

Running more classes take more instructors, which takes operators out of their teams and into the schoolhouse. Nobody likes that.

Having also been an Infantry basic training XO for a couple of years I can tell you that ID'ing potential candidates is not going to net you a lot. Again taking SOF types to support this type of activity is a no go.

Finally, the SF course started using a "selection" course (3 weeks) to identify candidates more than 17 years ago. Unfortunately, people still wash out due to injuries, not meeting academic standards, etc.

I don't know if they are posted on the SOCOM website, but there are a number of SOF Truths.

Humans are more important than Hardware.

Quality is better than Quantity.

Special Operations Forces cannot be mass produced.

Competent Special Operations Forces cannot be created after emergencies occur.

The Last Ephor said...

"Lots of good ideas that make sense (Duffy, Crosspatch and redhand). Unfortunately, execution is a little more difficult."

Thank you.

"Running more classes take more instructors, which takes operators out of their teams and into the schoolhouse. Nobody likes that."

Would it not be feasible to take operators who are at or near retirement age to put them into training spots? Either that or someone who's injured enough to be non-mission capable but able bodied enough to be an instructor.

baddog46 said...

Duffy, Again good idea and it is actually being implemented across SOF to support training and operations. The concept now is "SOF for life". That means that once you retire, you stay in the community in one form or another. Some guys have had enough and they go do something else. A lot of retired guys come back as civil servants or contractors. But the operational need is as great as the training need, and most guys would rather stay operational as much as possible.