Small Wars Journal

special operations forces

Changing Hearts and Brains: SOF Must Prepare Now for Neurowarfare Riley.C.Murray Sun, 12/12/2021 - 9:36am
The weaponization of neurotechnology – neurowarfare – poses unique challenges in a strategic environment that emphasizes competition between major powers. As powers compete for influence against one another, neuroweapons that directly target the brain to sway an adversaries’ actions are likely to be employed with increasing frequency. No longer should we conceptualize the human mind as a target for psychological influence through communication operations over long periods of time; neurotechnology paves the way for influence via physical brain modification to achieve almost immediate psychological shifts. Special Operations Forces (SOF) are uniquely positioned to confront the complex and dynamic threats neurowarfare poses but is currently under-prepared to take up the challenge. In line with USSOCOM’s 2020 ‘Innovation for Future Threats’ priority, the present article aims to fill this gap by providing actionable recommendations: (1) immediately implement neurowarfare training across the SOF enterprise; (2) invest in research on (a) cognitive degradation caused by neuroweapons, and (b) neuroweapons detection, disruption, and targeting; and (3) develop doctrine on neurowarfare. Ultimately, SOCOM needs to take a proactive stance by developing ‘neuro SOF professionals’ equipped to navigate this new battlespace.
A Counterfactual Look at the Afghan War:  the “SOF-only” COA and its Implications for the Future Riley.C.Murray Fri, 10/22/2021 - 12:41am
The U.S.-led war in Afghanistan began as a war to combat transnational terrorism but quickly evolved into something deeper and more profound.  To combat terror emanating from a foreign country the U.S. sought a cooperative Afghan government, and thus the war became an exercise in first toppling an uncooperative regime in the Taliban, and second establishing an effective government with a monopoly on force.  The first step proved easy, while the second led to a revival of counterinsurgent theory and doctrine in the U.S. military, as the deposed Taliban fought to undermine the newly established government.  With President Biden’s announcement all U.S. troops will be withdrawn after 20 years of engagement, it’s natural to take stock of what’s been achieved.  Most now recognize the error in the strategy of deploying large numbers of U.S. and Coalition troops to augment the Afghan defense forces.  Economically, through 2017 the combined efforts of the Afghan War had cost $877 billion, a price tag few would argue is justified by the realized returns.
Irregular Warfare Podcast: Back to the Future - Resetting Special Operations Forces for Great Power Competition

An interview with Michèle Flournoy, former USD-P, and Admiral (Ret.) Eric Olson, former USSOCOM commander


The Honorable Michèle Flournoy is the cofounder and managing partner of WestExec Advisors. She previously served as the under secretary of defense for policy in the Obama administration from 2009 to 2012, where she played a key role in formulating US strategy and policies that impacted SOF. Michèle is also the cofounder, and served as the chief executive officer, of the Center for a New American Security, a DC-based think tank.

Retired Admiral Eric Thor Olson was the eighth commander of United States Special Operations Command. Eric is a highly decorated Navy SEAL officer, having been awarded both a Silver Star and a Bronze Star for Valor, and was the first Navy SEAL appointed to the ranks of three-star and four-star admiral. At the time of his retirement, he was the longest-serving SEAL in the military.

Riley.C.Murray Mon, 07/05/2021 - 12:19pm

Marine Corps and Special Operations Forces Teaming for Great Power Competition

Thu, 06/17/2021 - 9:16am
  The USMC's contributions to the future pacific fight are outlined in the recently released tri-service maritime strategy. However, the document only vaguely mentions Naval SOF's unique skill sets and ability to prepare the operating environment for maritime force access without delineating clear lines of effort or aligning resources. To visualize the possibilities of future USMC-SOF I3D, it is helpful to consider a continuum of conventional force and SOF cooperation from deconfliction measures on the low end to opportunities for Integration, Interdependence, and Interoperability on the high-end. 

About the Author(s)

Special Operations News Update – Monday, April 12, 2021

A roundup of stories related to the special operations community of interest

Topics Include:

-International SOF in action (Canada, UK, Denmark)
-Counter threat finance applied to GPC
-Information Operations
-Updates and analysis on ongoing conflicts
-Upcoming events

Riley.C.Murray Mon, 04/12/2021 - 8:01am
SOF News Weekly News Update - 5 April 2021

A roundup of news stories related to the special operations community of interest

Topics Include:

-AFSOC's recent Emerald Warrior Exercise

-Training between Indian and US SOF

-SOF/CIA operational cooperation

-PRC and Russian information warfare

-Various global hotspots

-Plus upcoming events

Riley.C.Murray Fri, 04/09/2021 - 2:56am

Congressional Hearing on SOF Culture and Climate – March 2021

Fri, 04/02/2021 - 10:05pm

Analysis and commentary on recent testimony before the House Subcommittee on Intelligence and Special Operations on the state of the special operations community

Panel Participants. 

Ms. Linda Robinson is a long-time observer of US SOF. She is the author of Masters of Chaos: The Secret History of the Special Forces and of numerous papers and articles about SOF. Currently she is the Director of the Center for Middle East Public Policy at the RAND Corporation.

Lt. Gen. Mike Nagata, US Army (Ret.) had a long career in SOF spanning over 3 decades with US Army Special Forces and other special mission units (SMUs). He is a former commander of Special Operations Command Central (SOCCENT).

Ms. Kate Germano retired from the United States Marine Corps with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. She is the author of Fight Like a Girl: The Truth Behind How Female Marines Are Trained. The book details her professional battle against systemic gender bias in the Marines.

Mr. Mark Mitchell is a retired 0-6 that served many years in U.S. Army Special Forces. He is also a former (acting) Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict (SO/LIC). He is a frequent commentator and writer about SOF and the need for ASD SO/LIC to have a closer relationship with the Secretary of Defense and more oversight on United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM).

Modern War Institute Podcast: Special Operations Forces in the High North

A conversation with Col. Brian Rauen and Capt. Barrett Martin from 10th Special Forces Group and Dr. Ryan Burke of Project 6633


"The US Army’s Special Forces groups are largely oriented toward specific regions, and 10th Group has a particular focus on Europe—which means they have a natural organizational interest in the Arctic region. Last year, Capt. Martin led a team that went to the high northern latitudes in Europe to train alongside Norwegian and Swedish forces. He shares some of what his team learned during that experience, and Col. Rauen talks about why the Arctic is an area of growing importance for 10th Group. They also discuss some of the especially unique challenges posed to special operations forces working in such an extreme environment.

10th Group and Project 6633 have also partnered to host an essay contest, inviting submissions that address the question of how American special operations forces can compete with near-peer adversaries in the polar regions. If you’re interested in entering the contest, you can find more details here."

Riley.C.Murray Fri, 04/02/2021 - 9:54pm

JSOU Quick Look: Cyber Fundamentals for SOF

Sat, 03/20/2021 - 1:21pm



"Cyberspace operations extend the reach, agility, pace and effectiveness of SOF when fully integrated into doc-trine, training, planning and execution. For example, foreign internal defense requires cyber-enabled opera-tion off the grid and detection of adversary activity to enable partner response. In contrast, unconventional warfare needs ways for resistance movements to make its own equipment and that can happen with cyber-en-abled 3-D printing.All SOF core activities can be cyber enabled. However, for each core activity SOF needs different cyber-enabled capabilities to secure these benefits."