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Top SOF leaders address adaptability, future of force

  • Published
  • By Maj. Jessica Gross
  • Air Force Special Operations Command Public Affairs

Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict, Christopher Maier, and U.S. Army Gen. Bryan Fenton, commander, U.S. Special Operations Command, participated in a panel during the Special Air Warfare Symposium Feb 28, 2024.
SAWS is an annual symposium focused on special air warfare, SOF aviation mission sets, their partners, and enabling technologies.

The symposium included expert SOF panels that ranged from senior U.S. military and government leadership to industry experts across the enterprise.

Moderated by former Chief of Staff of U.S. Special Operations Command, U.S. Army Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Jim Linder, the conversation focused on how SOF is leveraging people, technology, and systems to campaign in the future operating environment.

“I think it is really important to recognize the multi domain aspects of special operations,” said Maier. “I think it is incumbent on this [SOF] community to do two things; continue to evolve and bring online some of the capabilities that haven't been as featured but are nonetheless part of the DNA of this community.”

In evaluating the value of SOF, a constant focus has been the people.

“Our strategic priority is people, as it should be in SOCOM.” said Fenton as he provided remarks during the panel. “Humans are more important than hardware has always been our motto...over software [or] Chat GPT or anything else.”

With emerging threats in advances to technology, the human aspect will always be the forefront in adapting to war and an evolving, rapidly changing theater environment for SOF.

“The human will always be our platform, our key capabilities and we will wrap the other pieces around that including technology, AI [artificial intelligence] and everything else.” Fenton said.

The importance of understanding technologies such as artificial intelligence, uncrewed systems, and logistics in contested environments provides a need for continuous transformation, along with education, within SOF units.
“When we talk about transformation, we're talking about adaption,” said Fenton. To further explain, he said ensuring our force is educated on new technologies and how the adversary is using them, is key to campaigning.
Looking towards the future, Maier provided some thoughts on the way forward for SOF.

“We're not going to be able to rely on the way we've done business in the past and we’ve got to look for more innovative ways.” said Maier. “We're going to really [leverage] the ecosystem of people out there, whether they're looking at it from a small tech startup or whether they're in academia or whether they're in the lab, a foreign partner – let's figure out a way to do something.”
To close the panel discussion, Fenton offered a positive outlook on the future of SOF.

“What I’d want everyone to say [5 years from now] is that SOF is absolutely, in all spaces – tech and industry, are trailblazers and pathfinders.” said Fenton. “SOF provides forces that have modernized across all domains enabling the Joint Force to be successful against any challenge.”