When the White House released the 2013 budget proposal, the writing was on the wall for ground forces. For the Army, 72,000 soldiers were slashed from its end strength. For the Marine Corps: 20,000.
In addition, the Navy may lose 6,550 slots, and the Air Force, 9,900 billets.
But no one in the White House or Pentagon was talking about cutting the ranks of special operators. They number about 66,000 personnel now, and the goal to reach 70,000 will not change.
Adm. William H. McRaven, Special Operations Command commander, said, "The future of special operations forces looks very bright." It is a cost-effective force spread out in 75 different countries on any given day, he said. Its funding only comes to about 1.6 percent of the Defense Department budget. "You can't pick up a paper without seeing some reference to special operations, and I am very proud of that fact," McRaven said at the National Defense Industrial Association's annual Special Operations/Low Intensity Conflict conference.
Special Operations Command has doubled the number of personnel since 9/11 and its budget has soared from $3.5 billion to $10.5 billion, he noted.
Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command will be adding 821 troops, mostly intelligence, communications and other specialists needed to support the 2,500 troops already in the units, said Maj. Gen. Paul Lefebvre, MARSOC commander.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said in a speech revealing the 2013 budget that the drawdown of the post-9/11 wars will provide more opportunities for Special Operations Forces, not less, namely in the realm of training and assisting partner nations in other regions.
The "Sustaining Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense" document President Obama released in January reemphasized many core missions that coincide with those associated with special forces, including: tailored counterterrorism and irregular warfare missions; interdicting weapons of mass destruction; projecting power in inaccessible areas; and building the capacity of partner nations.
The downside is the potential losses conventional forces may suffer as budgets shrink. SOCOM is dependent on the other services and other agencies for support such as intelligence and logistics, McRaven stressed. And those services may not fare as well in the budget battles.
Another factor that may put a damper on special operations growth is the threat of sequestration. The Budget Control Act calls for...