Operating on the Margins: SOF in the Gray Zone
This volume examines “gray zone conflict,” or the space between peace and war in which state and non-state actors engage in competition. Even with the February 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, this interpretive paradigm retains great utility and helps explain the current strategic environment and the holistic nature of contemporary conflict. The idea of the gray zone needs to be kept in the special operations forces planners’ conceptual toolkit since it helps clarify and articulate the contemporary global operating environment, particularly in Russia’s near abroad and in the South China Sea and China’s relations with Taiwan. This conflict model – the gray zone – is a valuable cognitive tool that facilitates a holistic comprehension of the unseen competitive struggle in which the West is currently engaged against various adversaries.
Back to the future: Designing the role of NATO Special Operations Forces in the 21st Century (Atlantica article)
DISCLAIMER: This article was originally published on Atlantica, a magazine of the Atlantic Forum, in June 2021. With permission from the authors, JSOU Press is sharing this article as a related reading. For more information, check out the article on the Atlantic Forum’s website: Back to the Future: Designing the role of NATO SOF in the 21st Century.
“The threat picture surrounding Europe and the North Atlantic has evolved significantly in the last decade. By virtue of their nature, special operations forces (SOF) need to be ready to tackle emerging challenges, and in this context, Allied and Partner SOF must evolve at the speed required by each nation. This essay analyses SOF employment in the context of the contemporary strategic environment and identifies how SOF should adapt so that techniques, structures, and operators are fit for purpose to address 21st century threats. Most readers will be familiar with the idea of SOF conducting kinetic operations in conflict and will view this as a natural function of SOF. Non-kinetic activities conducted by SOF during peacetime and crises, however, are less intuitive. Therefore, this article describes how SOF might be employed across the whole spectrum of conflict.”
Moral Injury: Implications for U.S. SOF and Ethical Resiliency
Nearly 160 years ago, Alexander Dumas concluded, “Moral wounds have this peculiarity–they may be hidden, but they never close; always painful, always ready to bleed when touched, they remain fresh and open in the heart.” In this monograph, the authors share a summary, review, and implications of moral injury in SOF while examining how improperly treated and inadequately cared for moral injury can profoundly affect all within the SOF community. After conducting research throughout the SOF enterprise and considering the implications of moral injury in SOF, the authors conclude that possibilities and probabilities remain for a restored spirit, renewed hope, and curative healing even after operators have experienced ethical, moral, and spiritual crucibles encountered as a result of SOF duties.
SOF Quills for the Porcupine: Applying Lessons from Ukraine to Taiwan
CIA Director William Burns assesses that Russia’s invasion of eastern Ukraine may inform China’s plan to gain control of Taiwan. Given the remarkable challenge Ukrainian resistance forces have presented Russia, Richard Clarke, General, U.S. Army, Ret. shares the desire of many U.S. officials for “Taiwan, just like Ukraine has been, to be an indigestible porcupine.” As of this writing, Ukraine has managed to avoid being metaphorically swallowed by Russia due to Ukraine’s conventional arsenal of deterrent “quills” comprised (in part) of ballistic missile defense, air defense, mine warfare, sea-denial fires, shore-denial fires, jamming, decoys, deception, civil defense, urban warfare, and life-essential infrastructure. Nevertheless, the U.S. and its allies have been reluctant to directly engage in open conflict with Russia or China due to the cataclysmic costs such a war might impose. Special Operations Forces (SOF) are uniquely suited for the delicate task of filling strategic deterrence gaps left by conventional capabilities.
Disruptive Technology in SOF-Peculiar Environments: Promises and Challenges in Development, Management, and Acquisition and Procurement
Military history provides numerous instances of states failing to recognize the implications of disruptive innovations. Contentment with incremental improvements on existing capabilities, such as weapon hand grips, autonomous capabilities, and augmented reality during operations, will not be enough to ensure the overall superiority of SOF warfighters. The impact of today’s decisions will compound as the pace of technological change accelerates. Failure to effectively harness disruptive innovations today reduces future decision options, operational capability, and the likelihood of winning tomorrow’s fight.