U.S. and allied country senior leaders discussed the roles that technology, relationships and additional topics play in developing special warfare teams for the future during a panel discussion Wednesday at the Special Operations Forces 2024 convention in Tampa, Florida.

The first half of the hourlong panel focused primarily on how special operations forces, or SOF, will not only adapt to modern military technology becoming more powerful, less expensive, and more globally available to both allies and adversaries around the world, but also how SOF will be able to best incorporate some of those technologies into future battle spaces.

“We have to think about how we evolve … and think about our legacy systems and platforms that served us very well in a certain operating environment [but] that may or may not have utility going forward,” said Rear Adm. Keith Davids, commander of U.S. Naval Special Warfare Command.  

Explaining how examples from Ukraine, the Black Sea and the Middle East demonstrate how small, technologically agile teams can challenge larger conventional forces, Davids said that technologies such as human-machine teaming enable SOF to mass effects without massing forces, creating asymmetric advantages. 

On the topic of artificial intelligence, Davids said he believes it can enhance the ‘OODA loop’ (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act), particularly in the “decide” phase, thus enabling SOF to operate faster than our adversaries.

“I think [the] decision advantage could be decisive going forward,” he said. 

Another speaker on the panel explained that, while technology is no doubt going to continue developing in the future, the focus should be more on the people who are using it. 

“Humans are more important than hardware, and that’s not something that’s going to change in the future,” said Command Sgt. Maj. JoAnn Naumann, senior enlisted leader for U.S. Army Special Operations Command.  

Naumann added that, beginning with the small scale and then working to the large, it’s important to look at what availabilities are needed on a team.

“Because, while I don’t believe that technology itself will win or lose, I do believe that the people who best apply technology will win or lose.” 

Along those lines, guest speaker Maj. Gen. Claudiu Dobocan, commander of  Romania’s special operations forces command, said that despite his organization’s SOF technical innovation being in its infancy ­— the command was only recently established in 2018 — his personnel are still able to contribute to their country’s other combat forces by testing out new equipment such as night vision goggles, radios and new types of body armor.

“We’re kind of the test bed that permeates into the force; so, we’re proud of that,” he said. 

Topics during the second half of the panel focused on the power of relationships and partnerships in the SOF community, as well as risk management.

Regarding the importance of maintaining good partnerships, Davids said that, in the era of strategic competition, the significance of partnerships has never been greater; especially during Phase Zero (an era of relative peace) when the military’s goal is deterrence. 

“[When] we think about the traditional partnerships we’ve had in the context of counterterrorism, they’ve been terrific,” he added. 

Responding to the question about risk-taking, Naumann brought up the topic of sharing information. 

“We can’t have our own silos of excellence. We have got to be able to partner seamlessly,” she said, adding that such sharing should be both internal with the joint force as well as with our foreign partners.

“That partnership has to be seamless. We have to be able to communicate … and we have to share until it hurts, because it is the only way we will win.” 

Jointly sponsored by Socom and the Global SOF Foundation, SOF Week — which runs through May 10 — is an annual conference for the international SOF community to learn, connect and honor its members, according to the event’s official website.   

The highlights of this year’s event include several keynote speakers, professional development seminars, industry engagements and a live capabilities demonstration.

Leave a comment

Powering peace, equipping nations