By Guy McCardle
Tensions are brewing in the U.S. Army’s ranks as whispers of a potential reduction in personnel within the Special Forces community grow louder. Central figures in this unfolding narrative are Army Secretary Christine Wormuth and Gen. Randy George, the top nominee set to be the next Army Chief of Staff. The potential cutback, ranging from 10 to 20 percent, is reportedly being weighed for incorporation into the Army’s 2025 fiscal year budget, aiming to redirect these resources toward modernizing the military.
The defense community, recognizing the potential implications of such a move, has not remained silent. A proactive step from the House Armed Services Committee, captured under Section 597 of their fiscal 2024 defense bill, proposes a thorough review by two esteemed figures: Christopher Maier, the assistant secretary of defense for special operations, and Army Gen. Bryan Fenton, who is at the helm of the U.S. Special Operations Command. The essence of this section is straightforward—any move to reduce the strength of the special operations forces (SOF) is to be paused until the comprehensive report stems from this review.
The Senate Armed Services Committee introduced Section 1059 in a parallel move, setting another mandate. This section requires Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to present a definitive report by March 1 of the upcoming year, elaborating on the optimal structure that SOF should adopt.
The broader sentiment within the defense community is of caution. While there is recognition that overall reductions in the Army may be an unfortunate necessity, given the challenges in recruitment for the regular Army, many argue against the trimming of specialized units. According to these voices, a prime example of teams that should be shielded is the Green Beret Operational Detachment Alphas.” (ODAS).
One influential voice in this debate is Stu Bradin, president of the Global SOF Foundation. Bradin doesn’t mince his words when he says, “The European Deterrence Initiative is a testament to effective strategy, paralleled by the Pacific Deterrence Initiative we rolled out. But it’s baffling that less than one percent of these dedicated funds are channeling into irregular warfare activities.” Bradin points towards Ukraine, highlighting the pervasive presence of hybrid warfare and expressing concern over the lack of dedicated resources in such critical arenas.
His concerns don’t stop there. Bradin looks at historical precedents and raises a compelling point: “History has shown the efficacy of proactive support systems. Take, for instance, the Lend-Lease program, which was the lifeline the U.S. extended to Great Britain during the tumultuous times of WWII. Why do we hesitate in crafting such forward-looking initiatives today?” Bradin’s reference to the Lend-Lease program underscores its success; the initiative allowed Britain to acquire essential war supplies from the U.S. at a significantly discounted rate, a debt they honorably settled by 2006.
Bradin also cautions against a reactive approach, stating, “Instead of being on the back foot, awaiting major conflicts to erupt and then hurriedly pouring billions into them, wouldn’t a proactive, strategic approach serve us better?” He believes that SOF possesses unparalleled expertise in forging partnerships and alliances, and their potential is not being maximized. “Introducing something akin to the Lend-Lease program could effectively counter defense corruption challenges in ally nations like Ukraine. More than just equipment, it’s about imbibing training, fostering alliances, and solidifying our global stance.”
As the debate continues, one thing is clear: the choices made now will have far-reaching implications for the defense landscape, domestically and internationally. The U.S. Army stands at a crossroads, with its next steps eagerly awaited by many.