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By Scott R. Gourley

Speaking at the recent ‘West 2012’ industry conference in San Diego, California, Rear Admiral Sean Pybus, Commander, Naval Special Warfare (NSW) Command, described U.S. naval special warfare and the broader joint special operations community as “in a transition phase.”

“Not so much a point; not an inflection; but a phase,” he explained. “Number one, our situation vis-à-vis other service forces and employment is changing. And number two, selected SOF capabilities or methods are being added, subtracted or refined to meet ‘the new normal’ of our threat environment.”

A current snapshot of the NSW community reflects 1200 members deployed in 21 countries around the world.

“Most of that force is in Afghanistan, working multiple lines of operation there, from village stability operations, to counter-network efforts,” he said.

Describing the joint SOF village stability strategy as “the game-changing line of effort that works long term,” Pybus stressed that future efforts will require continuation of “real and virtual lifelines” of communications and medical support that supply the remote SOF teams.

“If we find ourselves in hamlets or positions where we don’t think those lifelines will be effective we’re not going to go there,” he said.

Pybus pointed to the success of similar stability operations in the Philippines over the past decade, as well as presence in East Africa and the Arabian Gulf.

“All of this activity for Naval Special Warfare will go forward and then we will do more things in more parts of the world – as we can generate force and capability,” he said. “What became global force management in the mid-2000s, in order to resource CENTCOM active fights, we took from the Pacific; we took from Latin America; we took from Africa; we took from Europe. And we put those resources into the priority fights. So as we can, my intent is to reinvest in those areas that we left a number of years ago and get back up to the levels that those [regional] commanders need in order to do their business.”

“We will never meet full demand,” he acknowledged. “We are a special operations force. And there is a point at which growth erodes our ability to do special operations and to think in unconventional ways. But we will improve our investments around the globe as we can in the years to come.”

“For 10 years we’ve been side by side with the Army, the Air Force, and the Marine Corps in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Persian Gulf, the Horn of Africa – at war; together; joint,” he said. “And we will stay forward to assume more responsibilities from the theater commanders, generating capabilities appropriate to the threat, and to protect ourselves.”

Expanding on the future vision in which special operations elements will constitute a higher percentage of US forces deployed forward, Pybus pointed to a resulting need “to invest further in intelligence and communications – the ability to reach back. Those small elements who are alone out there have got to be able to reach back, communicate, bring other capabilities to bear, and to move. So we are taking harder looks at how we do that for our forces, anticipating the environment that we’re moving into. Individual soldier systems apply here as well – how we’re armed and how we can defend ourselves – things and ways that will continue to give SEALs, Combatant Craft detachments, other NSW elements a winning advantage when they are more alone in contested terrain.”

“We will be farther from friendly support, yet expected to do everything we are doing today,” he continued. “Those real and virtual lifelines that I speak about cannot fail.”

Elaborating of anticipated NSW communications requirements, Pybus offered, “We need to be able to communicate in a contested environment. We absolutely have to communicate through adversary EW and in every part of the world. So we are taking a much more critical look at that now.

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