Shrinking Army Special Operations Is a Bad Idea for Deterring China

Shrinking Army Special Operations Is a Bad Idea for Deterring China
U.S. soldiers competing in the 2022 U.S. Army Small Arms Championships at Fort Benning, Georgia, on March 13–19, 2022. (Michelle Lunato/U.S. Army)
John Mills

The most baffling Department of Defense military force structure decision of 2023 is the Army’s decision to single out the Army Special Operations community for downsizing.

Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth has announced a 3,000-position cut to Special Operations in a “redesign” of the Army Special Operations community. Chris Maier, assistant secretary of defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict (ASD SOLIC), and Ms. Wormuth have begun to artfully parse this cut as not affecting the Green Berets but focusing on “enabler” elements without further clarification.
The U.S. Army Special Operations Command (ARSOC) is made up of roughly 36,000 servicemembers and civilians, many of whom would fall into this “enabler” category. Those with a robust knowledge of special operations doctrine and operational implementation know that the world-class “shooters” in the Green Berets and Rangers are made substantially more effective, deployable, and pervasive by the enablers in Special Operations Aviation, Civil Affairs, Psychological Operations, Special Operations sustainment, and other units that aren’t even acknowledged to exist.
An additional explanation from Ms. Wormuth and Mr. Maier is that there are vacant slots that can be swept up and applied toward these force structure cuts. The reason for the inability of ARSOC and the entire Army to fill these vacant slots (the Army is mandated at 452,000 personnel in Section 401 of the 2024 National Defense Authorization Act) has to be addressed in full intellectual honesty to account for the “w” word: “wokeness.”

Critical Role of ARSOC in Building Partner Capacity in Taiwan

ARSOC makes up more than half of the total structure of the entire U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), so decrementing ARSOC hinders the entire SOCOM mission. One of the key SOCOM and ARSOC missions is what’s known as foreign internal defense (FID), which is building the capacity of key partners to defend themselves.

One of the critical actions directed in the 2023 and 2024 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is Section 1309, which establishes training, advising, and institutional capacity building for Taiwan’s military. This section mandates a large-scale training program for Taiwan, where FID is a core element.

And which part of the Army force structure specializes and focuses on FID?

ARSOC, which makes the targeted cut of ARSOC puzzling.

Not well advertised has been a longstanding effort by the Special Operations community to better organize, train, and equip Taiwanese regular and reserve forces to respond to Chinese gray zone activities before or during a potential invasion by China. This effort is the spearhead of Indo-Pacific Command efforts to build deterrence capacity to discourage communist China from considering a move to open warfare in the Western Pacific.
The proposed cut in ARSOC belies a disconnect between the NDAA and the announced actions of the secretary of the Army and ASD SOLIC. Significant bureaucratic disconnects do happen in the largest bureaucracy in the world, which is where Congress, in its oversight role, needs to identify and act upon such non-sequiturs. Rep. Mike Waltz (R-Fla.) has taken vocal leadership to address the proposed Army actions.

Strategic Reconnaissance Delivers Significant Value for Indo-Pacific Command

Another critical mission for ARSOC in support of Indo-Pacific Command is strategic reconnaissance. This is the mission in which ARSOC elements are the indispensable “eyes and ears” of the theater commander, Adm. John Aquilino.
The ARSOC units and elements provide significant capacities and capabilities to Special Operations Command Pacific. The ARSOC elements would give advance warning of any Chinese moves on Taiwan and North Korean moves toward South Korea. In addition, there are special situations, such as Chinese adventurism in the Solomon Islands.
The ARSOC units would be essential in identifying what the Chinese are really up to, especially when Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare is openly embracing Beijing and is hostile toward non-Chinese elements. The Solomon Islands represent an interesting scenario in which much of the population is pro-Western, which may enable Western special operators to try to determine the scope and intent of the Chinese Communist Party’s malign activities in the Solomon Islands.
The Western Pacific isn’t the only place where ARSOC will play a crucial role. With the developing possibility of Venezuelan aggression toward Guyana, ARSOC, with the 7th Special Forces Group and the associated enablers, make unconventional warfare capabilities a key deterrent to Venezuela and growing Chinese civil-military fusion operations in the Americas.
The special operators of ARSOC play an irreplaceable role in FID, strategic reconnaissance, and the all-important “SOF Truth #1.” People are more important than hardware. In other words, the most important job for the U.S. Special Operations Forces is to build enduring personal relationships with host countries, which is irreplaceable in the struggle to shape host country decision-making on whether to align with China or the American-led world. This is a key tenet to victory, and within the total Army, this expertise resides in ARSOC.

Big Army Should Think This Through

With the emphasis of the Department of Defense on building deterrence capacity to China, the main effort is weighted toward Navy and Air Force capabilities. In other words, the Navy and Air Force lead, and the other services are in support. A key force multiplier that the Army can contribute to the main effort is the total ARSOC force structure, both the Green Berets and Rangers but also the entire ARSOC force package, which means the rest of the Army Special Operations enablers, to the odd conclusion of Ms. Wormuth and Mr. Maier, are the logical candidates for cuts.

Their decision process and analytical rigor are mysterious at this point in time. Citing unfilled billets is hardly a reason for force structure cuts. All of the services are experiencing unprecedented challenges in recruiting and retention.

Perhaps the off-limits term of wokeness has to be addressed. The 2024 NDAA fell short of directly targeting the ideology and its cancerous encroachment into U.S. military culture. However, it did begin to address the topic with Sections 364 and 904, which started to limit the staffing of diversity, equity, and inclusion billets.

Until more transparency is presented, the merit of ARSOC-focused cuts is mysterious and runs counter to the intuitive value that ARSOC contributes to deterring and countering the Chinese regime’s overt and malign activities.

Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.
Col. (Ret.) John Mills is a national security professional with service in five eras: Cold War, Peace Dividend, War on Terror, World in Chaos, and now, Great Power Competition. He is the former director of cybersecurity policy, strategy, and international affairs at the Department of Defense. Mr. Mills is a senior fellow at the Center for Security Policy. He is author of “The Nation Will Follow” and “War Against the Deep State.” ColonelRETJohn on Substack, GETTR, and Truth Social
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