U.S. Special Operations Command could see reductions in modernization investments in the coming years as the Pentagon focuses on great power competition.
President Donald Trump's fiscal year 2021 budget request included $2.3 billion for procurement for SOCOM, a reduction of about 12 percent compared to the enacted amount for 2020, and 26 percent less than what it was allocated in 2019, according to budget documents.
It also included $732 million for research, development, test and evaluation, about 14 percent less than the $852 million it received in 2020. However, that would still be well above the $613 million it received for RDT&E in 2019, providing more money to develop next-generation systems.
"The FY 2021 budget for [Special Operations Forces] investments procures, modernizes, and/or modifies SOF-peculiar aviation, mobility, and maritime platforms, weapons, ordnance, and communications equipment," the Pentagon said in its budget overview. "The FY 2021 budget sustains SOF growth and readiness, and increases lethality through modernization and recapitalization, and investing in new technologies."
Special Operations Command declined to provide topline numbers for projected modernization investments over the course of the future years defense program, saying the information was "pre-decisional."
Steven Bucci, a defense analyst with the Heritage Foundation and a former Special Forces officer, said SOCOM might see its budgets trimmed in the coming years as the Pentagon's main focus turns toward great power competition with China and Russia and away from counterinsurgency and counterterrorism.
"It's kind of inevitable," he said. "The world has changed."
However, there are still counterterrorism and counterinsurgency challenges out there, he noted, and SOF also has a role to play in great power competition.
"Now we're going to have to have a lot more scrutiny so that the equipment buys and equipment usage that we come up with is going to have to be useful in both fights," Bucci said. "That's the only way SOCOM is going to maintain the capability that it needs to do both" missions.
SOCOM's total funding request for 2021 was $13 billion--about $700 million, or 5 percent, less than was enacted for 2020.
Requested procurement funding for 2021 includes: $211 million, an 18 percent increase, for rotary-wing platform upgrades and sustainment; $34 million, a 70 percent increase, for unmanned intelligence, surveillance...