Leveraging Global Joint Assets for Proactive Threat Defeat
From Armor & Mobility May/June 2017 Issue
General Raymond Thomas III Commander U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM)
General Raymond A. Thomas III currently serves as the 11th Commander of U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla. Prior to assuming command of USSOCOM, Gen. Thomas served as Commander, Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), Fort Bragg, N.C. GEN Thomas’ other assignments as a general officer include: Associate Director for Military Affairs at the Central Intelligence Agency; Commanding General, NATO Special Operations Component Command – Afghanistan; Deputy Commanding General, JSOC; Deputy Director for Special Operations, The Joint Staff in the Pentagon; Assistant Division Commander, 1st Armor Division in Iraq; and Assistant Commanding General, JSOC. Prior to being promoted to brigadier general, Gen. Thomas also served as the JSOC Chief of Staff and Director of Operations. His other formative and key, joint and special operations assignments include: Commander, Joint Task Force – Bravo, Soto Cano, Honduras; Commander, 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, Savannah, Ga.; and Commander, B Squadron, 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment – Delta, Fort Bragg, N.C. He is a graduate of the US Army War College, Carlisle, Penn., and the Naval Command and Staff College, Newport, R.I. Gen. Thomas is a native of Philadelphia, Pa. He attended the United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., and was commissioned an infantry second lieutenant upon graduation in 1980.
A&M: In light of continuing global regional conflicts creating potential “avenues of action” by ISIS/ISIS-inspired groups/individuals, how do you see USSOCOM’s role under a new U.S. Administration being redefined to better protect U.S. interests?
GEN Thomas: U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) elements are well placed to address the threats posed by Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and other like-minded organizations, primarily by working by, with, and, through our international partners and with the Interagency to support the Geographic Combatant Commands (GCCs). The training, advice and assistance our forces provide to key countries at risk helps to mitigate, disrupt and prevent threats before they reach the homeland. Under Chairman Dunford’s leadership, USSOCOM was designated the Department of Defense (DoD) Coordinating Authority for Countering Transregional Terrorist Organizations (CTTO). As the DoD Coordinating Authority, USSOCOM looks across all of the GCCs in order to improve timeliness and to develop a robust range of options for U.S. leadership in the fight to defeat ISIS. Specifically, we developed a global assessment program which is intended to enable DoD to seize emerging opportunities and address challenges with every GCC commander simultaneously. This approach continues to enhance our military’s unity of effort to leverage changes in the fight more seamlessly. I anticipate this approach continuing under President Trump and his team, with a renewed emphasis on ensuring we have the right tools and resources we need to fight effectively. Timely and accurate intelligence is key to making this approach work, and, therefore, requires a network of partners sharing information across systems that can process and act on it quickly. Ultimately, we want to defeat ISIS, al Qaeda, and other extremist groups to protect our homeland. Taking the fight to them impedes their ability to maintain sanctuaries for training and launching attacks against us. This networked approach will require long-term vigilance with key indigenous partners on the ground leading the charge as well as a focused effort to address the flow of money, people and ideology that fuel groups like ISIS.
A&M: What can you tell us about USSOCOM’s newly re-defined role in supporting a U.S.-led initiative to counter the proliferation of WMDs?
GEN Thomas: On August 5, 2016, the President approved draft Unified Command Plan (UCP) language for a Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction (CWMD) global mission transfer from U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM) to U.S. Special Operations (USSOCOM). The new UCP language states that the Commander, USSOCOM is responsible for synchronizing the planning of DoD CWMD efforts in support of other combatant commands, Departmental priorities, and as directed other U.S. Government (USG) agencies in support of the DoD CWMD strategy. Pursuant to the President’s approval, the Secretary of Defense (SecDef) transferred DoD WMD Synchronization Authority responsibilities from the Commander USSTRATCOM to the Commander USSOCOM on January 9, 2017. USSOCOM already maintains special operations CWMD-specific roles, responsibilities, and capabilities. Those capabilities are made available for employment by the GCCs as directed by the Sec Def. This new role as DoD’s synchronizer for CWMD plans broadens USSOCOM’s scope of responsibility, in addition to our continuing SOF-specific CWMD role. As the command grows into its new responsibilities, it will maintain the current efforts established by USSTRATCOM. However, as we move forward, USSOCOM will, on behalf of DoD, publish a new active global campaign plan. The new campaign plan’s intent will be to provide a comprehensive, transregional approach that is problem-focused versus regionally-focused — an approach that not only enhances DoD’s efforts but supports all USG activities across the CWMD activity continuum. USSOCOM will ensure department-wide situational awareness of CWMD issues; recommend CWMD priorities for DoD; with Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Joint staff, facilitate coordination between DOD and our interagency/intelligence community partners; and, with the GCCs, integrate international allies and partners into CWMD planning efforts. Over the years, we’ve learned a regularly scheduled synchronization process — AKA a “battle rhythm” — allows us to seize the initiative, reinforce success, avert failure, and prepare for contingencies. Our methodology for maintaining an active CWMD global campaign plan is through a transregional synchronization. The semi-annual process contains four phases: execute, assess, evaluate & recommend, and decide. The process starts with the Geographic Combatant Commands. They implement DoD’s CWMD global campaign plan. The GCCs are responsible for developing “problem focused” plans, managing intelligence requirements, executing operations, and assessing them. Using the GCCs’ assessments, USSOCOM will formulate an overall assessment that provides recommendations to shape priorities, enhance activities, inform policy, and allocate resources to further campaign objectives. Our process runs in parallel with other USG and partner nation CWMD efforts. We see interagency, intelligence community, and partner nation participation as essential. Assuming this new role will involve some temporary risk; the transfer of funding and manpower, hiring of new personnel, and building a network of partners takes time. However, since we are building on the solid foundation provided by USSTRATCOM, as well at leveraging our functional and historical global SOF network, we are confident in our ability to get after this transregional threat quickly and effectively.
A&M: From Joint SOF and SOF partnering perspectives, can you discuss ways USSOCOM is supporting a greater focus on interoperability within U.S. and allied-led operations?
GEN Thomas: One of the attributes my predecessors developed and cultivated was a global network of SOF partners. My focus since taking command has been on continuing to “operationalize” that network and to identify how we work together on specific problem sets, based on common national interests. That network won’t work if we cannot operate effectively with our partners. We are not starting from scratch to solve the interoperability problem. NATO’s Special Operations Headquarters in Mons, Belgium, has made great strides toward improving interoperability by establishing a common coalition SOF doctrine, which is relevant even outside of the 28-nation construct. One key to interoperability is understanding where and how countries are employing their scarce SOF resources. We do this through development of a global Common Operating Picture. Three Key elements that help us maintain that global Common Operating Picture are the Special Operations Liaison Officers (SOLOs), our J3-Internation (J3-I) and the Theater Special Operations Commands (TSOCs). Recognizing that humans are more important than hardware, particularly where it comes to interoperability, we have established SOLOs with many of our key SOF partners. SOLOs work as part of the US embassy country team in direct support of the host nation’s SOF development. In 2014, we established an international coordination center at USSOCOM, the J3-I. USSOCOM currently hosts SOF representatives from 19 nations in J3-I, and it provides us with a unique capability to tackle interoperability challenges by directly involving the partner nations. For example, this year we are partnering with the Joint Staff J6 in their Bold Quest capability demonstration, to look at specific air-to-ground and coalition ISR problems that occur when working across different security domains. Also, J3-I partner nation representatives directly support pre-mission training for Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force staffs deploying to Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria, to ensure coalition SOF planning and operational considerations are built into those organizations. The TSOCs are our regional, operational headquarters that are under the command and control of the GCCs. Between J3-I, SOLOs, and the TSOCs USSOCOM has direct access to over 30 nations on a continuous basis. Since SOF cannot be massed produced, it is vitally important that we work through and with our partners, providing them with every opportunity to improve our ability to operate as a team anywhere, at any time.
A&M: From an industry partnering perspective, how is USSOCOM working to partner with industry to better facilitate efforts to increase mission positive outcomes?
GEN Thomas: We have several pathways to partner with industry to discover and transition new technologies to support SOF. Many of our interactions and events with industry partners are held at a venue called SOFWERX. SOFWREX is an unclassified, open-collaboration facility located in downtown Tampa designed to bring non-traditional partners from industry, academia, and the government together to work on USSOCOM’s most challenging problems. At SOFWERX we conduct Capability Collaboration Events (CCEs), technology sprints, Rapid Prototyping Events (RPEs), and other events with Government, academia, and innovators in the commercial marketplace. Another practice we use to partner with industry is our Technical Experimentation (TE) events. We invite technology providers to bring their works in progress to our hosted events three to four times per year. Each event has a SOF specific theme, and we bring operators who assess the technology and provide feedback to the technology provider which helps them to improve their products. TEs provide a win-win environment because technology providers can get insight into what’s important to the user early in the development cycle. We get to see technology early on and often identify additional use-cases that haven’t been considered by the developer. We also see quite a bit of what we call “ad-hoc” experiments. “Ad hoc” experiments happen when two or more technology developers combine their efforts and either fix a problem within their product or add a capability they hadn’t thought of before coming to TE. SOF Acquisition, Technology and Logistics (AT&L) also has a Director of Small Business who provides guidance and information to our industry and commercial partners on how to do business with USSOCOM. This office should be one of a small business’ first contacts when initiating communication with USSOCOM. The Technology & Industry Liaison Office (TILO) is a conduit to present information on capabilities to the various USSOCOM Program Executive Offices, directorates and others responsible for the research and development, acquisition, production, and sustainment of USSOCOM equipment. Lastly, we hold the Special Operations Forces Industry Conference (SOFIC) annually in Tampa. SOFIC provides networking opportunities, demonstrations and exhibits of SOF equipment exhibitions and the opportunity to hear from senior SOF leaders, acquisition professional and experts from across the command. SOFIC also provides a venue for us to get to know our industry partners better and forum for the SOF community to come together to network, strategize, discuss and share information.
A&M: Feel free to speak to other challenges USSOCOM is addressing going forward.
GEN Thomas: USSOCOM and SOF has never been more relevant to the current and enduring threats to our national security and have never been more in need of transformational efforts to keep us ahead of emerging security threats. USSOCOM’s role spans all of the security challenges outlined in the National Military Strategy. As a combatant command with a global focus and the force provider of SOF, USSOCOM plays a major supporting role in every theater. The command’s expansive role requires us to embrace innovation and transformation so we can quickly evolve and adapt to keep pace with the rapidly changing security environment. We are constantly seeking out technological solutions for improvements in ISR, cyber, mobility, survivability, command and control, power and energy, and human performance to name a few. But we are dependent on others to help us successfully meet the challenges of innovation and transformation. We are dependent on the Services to develop major platforms so we can rapidly modify those platforms to meet SOF requirements, and we are dependent on industry and academia to lead the way in finding technological solutions we need. Finding the right technologies to help us innovate and transform is only the first step and not the most important. The most important step is when we put those innovative solutions into the hands of our over 70,000 USSOCOM teammates to empower them to solve problems and overcome obstacles. With the quality of people we have and their commitment to excellence and the nation’s security, I am confident we will continue to be successful in meeting the challenges of the future.