Sen. Kelly Chairs Emerging Threats and Capabilities Hearing on Readiness of Special Operations Forces

Kelly maintains focus on out-innovating and out-competing near-peer adversaries 

In case you missed it, yesterday, Navy combat veteran and Arizona Senator Mark Kelly chaired a Senate Armed Services Committee Emerging Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee hearing that focused on the United States Special Operations Command’s efforts to sustain the readiness of special operations forces.

Kelly welcomed leadership of Special Operations Command service components to testify and moderated a discussion about sustaining counterterrorism efforts, enhancing the force to meet the demands of great power competition with adversaries like China and Russia, and the role our special operations forces play in executing the National Defense Strategy.

Kelly delivers his opening remarks at yesterday's ETC hearing.

Since he was sworn in, Kelly has remained focused on ensuring the United States military has the resources it needs to maintain a competitive edge over its near-peer adversaries like China and Russia. In his opening remarks at the hearing, Kelly emphasized how Special Operations Forces (SOF) support the spectrum of competition, crisis, and conflict, including past efforts to train Ukrainian forces that are currently outperforming Russian invading forces in the current war in Ukraine:

“As has been widely reported, the persistent engagement of the U.S. [special operations forces] with their Ukrainian counterparts over a period of years has undoubtedly contributed to their success in degrading the larger and more heavily armed Russian invasion forces,” said Kelly. “Without going into details of our current support to the Ukrainian forces, I hope our witnesses today will discuss the lessons learned from our engagement with Ukraine and how they can be applied to shaping SOF for the future.”

You can read key excerpted transcripts of Sen. Kelly’s exchange with witnesses below or watch the full hearing HERE.

Kelly on Undersea Capabilities to Deter China

Kelly: …I want to start with Admiral Howard…talk a little bit about undersea capabilities here. It’s you know, pretty much understood that our undersea capability is, we’ve got a comparative advantage to Russia and China and the ability to operate under the ocean. And I understand this is one of SOCOMs priority investment areas for fiscal year twenty three is the development of a new undersea insertion and exfiltration capability. So Admiral, can you just kind of you know step through us here, how the development process is going, how you’re working with SOCOM to extend the undersea reach of Naval special operators, and also a little bit about integration with the regular Navy, you know often, as you’re developing a system and you’re trying to, you know, get it to work with, you know, something you might not… it’s not part of the development program, but it needs to work with existing hardware that can be a challenge and so if you could comment on that as well.

Admiral Howard: Thank you. Our relationship with our submarine force – it’s never been closer. And we learn from working with our submarine force. They are an exemplar of a highly reliable organization, which we always strive to be. We also have an advantage as a country in the undersea with our allies and partners. I was recently in Europe with several of our allies where we are collaborating on new capabilities and combined operations.

For acquisition and oversight and execution, and due diligence of these programs, were investing with SOCOM and SOCOM’s AT&L inside of my own command so that we bolster the workforce around the execution of the program, the integration that is…we have a dependency with the Navy…there’s great alignment with Admiral Gilday’s staff and of course at NAVSEA [Naval Sea Systems Command] .

I’m confident that we’re on a trajectory to deliver the nation capabilities that are distinctive and access the denied targets in a way that’s survivable and persistent. 

Kelly: Can you talk a little bit about some of the requirements that – unclassified – you know, what you’re looking for in this system and how the integration with the Navy is going. I know in, you know, in prior systems we have had difficulty integrating hardware onto, you know, submarines and I want to make sure that that’s not something we encounter here with this program. 

Howard: We’re on the right course in that regard with the Navy to expand the kinds of capabilities that we can integrate onto our submarine posts. With future capabilities, we are looking at extended ranges, extended increasing payloads, teaming with unmanned systems. That’s generally our strategy. We see the undersea is absolutely critical to deterrence. I think it’s a place that we maintain advantage and it’s a place where we must maintain advantage to critically deter our peer adversaries. 

Kelly on Lessons Learned from Ukraine

Kelly: So I just returned from visiting our allies and service members…a couple stops in Poland and Germany. It’s clear that US Special Operations forces, you know can act as a significant force multiplier for our strategic Partners, including when facing off some well-armed adversaries and I think nowhere is this more apparent than in what’s going on in Ukraine today as I mentioned that I think the General Braga mentioned during our opening remarks, reports have indicated that Putin’s Army here is stalled in Ukraine because of the direct support in training Special Operations Forces of the Ukrainian military since the invasion of Crimea in 2014. So General Braga: I know that you can’t comment on, you know, specifics in this training, but can you discuss some of the lessons learned from Ukraine regarding the use of army Special Operations capabilities as the US military continues in this pivot towards great power competition with Russia?

Gen. Braga: Senator, thank you for the opportunity. I think there’s lots of lessons learned that can be applied elsewhere, although other parts of the globe are not certainly the same. From our information ops and psychological operations, civil affairs teams on the ground right now are working with the multitude of international non-governmental organizations supporting the people of Ukraine and certainly our Special Forces teams who have been there again for multiple years now helping them. 

I mean the credit really goes to Ukrainian people and the Ukrainian military. We just helped them a little bit along that journey, but I do think what is an untold story is the international partnership with the Special Operations Forces of a multitude of different countries. I won’t name the number right now, but they have absolutely banded together in a much outsized impact to support Ukrainian SOF and Ukrainian military and their efforts right now that I think is a great new story and I think, I think that really bore out from the last 20 years of working together, sweating together, bleeding together, in different battlefields on different continents and some of these partners are new. There’s been a coalescence in a joining of that Unity of effort. It’s absolutely inspiring to see. That itself, is, I think you mentioned earlier, is something that our adversaries desire to have, that we have, and that’s really a gold standard, those International Partnerships that can be part of the solution moving forward. Certainly we’re taking tactical lessons learned and immediately trying to apply them to our school houses and other foreign partners for everyone to learn as this unfortunate conflict continues to unfold. 

Kelly: Yes, sometimes it’s not ideal to share those lessons learned, do you have any examples that you’re comfortable sharing? 

Braga: Well, it’s impressive to see the impact that manned and unmanned drones and teaming is having. I think that is an absolute critical growth area for United States Army Special Operations Command. It’s one of our modernization priorities, one of our seven monetization priorities. I cannot envision a future Battlefield without increased, ever-increasing manned, unmanned Robotics and the application of AI to maximize their effect and impact across all warfighting functions. That’s something we’re looking at extremely closely and only seeing growth in future privatization resources training and even possibly, we’re experimenting with what type of MOS [inaudible] Specialties are inside the Army Special Operations Command, so it’s not just an additional duty, it’s an actual specialty. […]