OPINION: Despite breathless reports on Special Ops cuts, the real numbers tell a mundane story

SOF week
Photo credit Courtesy of the author

The Biden administration is planning to cut 10-20 percent of Special Operations Command (SOCOM) according to anonymous Capitol Hill staffers...but is it true?

That figure came to light during a recent congressional hearing in which retired General Ken Tovo by Senator Ted Budd who did not cite the source of this figure, nor did the anonymous hill staffer who spoke to Defense One about it stating, "I’m told by both mid- and senior-level officials in the Army and special operations that cuts to [special operations forces] are coming. Cuts of at least 10 percent. I say again: at least 10 percent are currently reflected in TAA 25-29. TAA is Total Army Analysis 25-29, which is the Army’s process by which they determine future force structure and inform the budget process."

According to my handy 2023 SOCOM fact book, there are approximately 70,000 personnel currently assigned to SOCOM. A 10-20 percent cutback would reduce the force by 7,000 to 14,000 personnel. This would be the equivalent of disbanding the entire Ranger Regiment and Naval Special Warfare or the entire Special Forces Regiment. It's an absurd number, too absurd to be taken seriously without attribution.

More likely, anonymous Pentagon officials and compliant Hill staffers are "preparing the battlefield" to use military terminology by sensitizing the public to what cuts are coming and getting some press coverage on the issue. According to numbers provided to Connecting Vets by Special Operations Command public affairs, the real cuts are far less severe.

The only currently approved reductions in personnel for the fiscal year 2023 as mandated by the Department of Defense are the reduction of 97 active duty soldiers spread across Army and Marine Corps Special Operations Command, 343 from the Reserves, and 40 contractors.

During the War on Terror, SOCOM greatly increased in size and scope to meet wartime needs. With the shooting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq now over, these sound like rather small reductions to force structure. As one SOCOM source told me, basically this means that there will only be one Major in the S3 (operations) office rather than two. The cuts that are currently being made will not reduce the number of Special Forces teams, or SEAL or Ranger platoons.

From what I observed at a recent trip down to Tampa, Florida for the SOF week industry conference, it appears that Special Ops is very safe and secure within the DOD budget and are getting lots of new toys to play with in the post-GWOT era from undersea submersibles, unmanned vehicles, and arctic warfare kit that looks like it could be a GI Joe action figure play set.

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Reach Jack Murphy: jack@connectingvets.com or @JackMurphyRGR.

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