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Joint Special Operations University Press Publications

SOF THEORY

Research Topics 2021

undefinedSpecial Operations Research Topics 2020 (Revised Edition for Academic Year 2021)

The JSOU Special Operations Research Topics 2020 publication, newly revised for academic year 2021 with 18 new topics, highlights a wide range of research topics collaboratively developed and prioritized by experts from across the Special Operations Forces (SOF) community. As with the previous versions of this publication, this list is tailored to address special operations priorities. The topics in these pages are intended to guide research projects for professional military education (PME) students, JSOU faculty, fellows and students, and others writing about special operations during this academic year. This research will provide a better understanding of the complex issues and opportunities affecting the strategic and operational planning needs of SOF.

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Special Operations Theory edited by Peter McCabe and Paul Lieber, with a foreword by Professor Colin S. Gray

This monograph is the third of three volumes that follow from an August 2016 JSOU symposium, Theory of Special Operations. This compendium of articles is not a comprehensive or exhaustive treatment of special operations theory. Rather, it is intended to continue the conversation and, at least, bring to a culminating point the argument over whether a theory of special operations is necessary and if the suggestions are suitable, feasible, and acceptable. The editors of this compendium, JSOU resident senior fellows, highlight opposing views and conclude with an academic, joint special operations perspective on the status of the theory argument. No matter where you stand on the subject, this is worth your time and consideration.

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Outside the Box: A New General Theory of Special Operations by Tom Searle, Ph.D.

In this monograph, volume two of three, Dr. Tom Searle articulates a general theory of special operations. In his view, robust special operations are not niche specialties, but unconventional operations that may range to the full extent of military authority and capability. He argues that this thinking reduces friction and clarifies the nature of special operations such that conventional forces are free to focus on fewer tasks. Searle also dedicates an appendix to illustrate how his general theory relates to other efforts. Readers are encouraged to examine all three volumes (Rich Rubright, Ph.D., Tom Searle, Ph.D., and the compendium edited by Peter McCabe, Ph.D.) with an open mind. These three volumes provide an opportunity for the reader to challenge their own preexisting positions, incorporate fresh perspectives, and perhaps think differently about what is necessary and sufficient for a special operations theory.

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A Unified Theory for Special Operations, by Richard W. Rubright, Ph.D.

As part one of a three-part JSOU Press series on special operations theory, Dr. Rubright articulates what he calls "a unified theory of special operations." His theory is simply expressed in ten words: "Special Operations are extraordinary operations to achieve a specific effect." This single sentence is a gateway to a rich discussion which will force readers to think critically about special operations and the role that they should serve in the pursuit of strategic objectives. No matter which side of the argument you take up, Dr. Rubright's monograph is an excellent start towards forming an academic position on special operations theory. These three volumes provide an opportunity for the reader to challenge their own preexisting positions, incorporate fresh perspectives, and perhaps think differently about what is necessary and sufficient for a special operations theory.

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21st Century SOF: Toward an American Theory of Special Operations by Harry R. Yarger

In this concise JSOU monograph, Dr. Rich Yarger considers the 21st century security environment, previous work on special operations theory, and various other perspectives of SOF gleaned from his research to synthesize an American SOF school of thought, which he argues provides a foundation for developing an American special operations theory for the 21st century. He offers definitions, premises, and principles that explain modern American special operations over the last 70 years and can serve SOF well into the future. Based on his research, he identifies major areas of concern for SOF leadership. As USSOCOM confronts the challenges offered by the 21st century and policymakers continue to look at SOF as a preferred means to address numerous and complex security issues, theory is essential in determining and explaining the appropriate roles and missions for SOF in the 21st century. 

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"We Will Find a Way": Understanding the Legacy of Canadian Special Operations Forces by Bernd Horn

Colonel Bernd Horn’s monograph on the legacy of Canadian Special Operations Forces (SOF) highlights the colorful history and heritage of SOF from a vital partner nation. Horn reaches back to the 17th and 18th centuries with the Canadian Ranger tradition. He recounts Canada’s entry into World War II and its SOF experience with the British-led Special Operations Executive.  He highlights a combined U.S./Canadian unit, the First Special Service Force, which trained together in Montana and fought alongside each other earning the moniker “Black Devils” by the Germans. Colonel Horn then continues to present day. He provides a brief but exciting recap of Canadian SOF history that not only enriches our understanding of SOF from a key ally, but also highlights the historic bonds and military experiences that our two great nations share. 

Report of Proceedings: SOF Power Workshop

The JSOU Strategic Studies Department convened a SOF-Power Workshop in August 2011 to examine the role of military Special Operations (SOF-Power) in national security and the relevance and feasibility of a theory of Special Operations to inform and guide the development and use of Special Operations and SOF. The workshop participants critically examined the role of military Special Operations in the 21st century, validating SOF-Power‘s continued strategic utility. From this foundation, the participants concluded the need for a unified theory of Special Operations as a foundational document for the pursuit of education and strategic art within the SOF community, and the greater military and political communities. This report documents the group‘s insights and conclusions and provides recommendations for a way forward in broadening the strategic art in regard to SOF-Power. 

Joint Special Operations University: SOF-Power Workshop

Modern military Special Operations arguably started with the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in World War II and have maintained strategic utility for almost 70 years. The War on Terror, the Iraq War, and Afghanistan operations reinforced SOF‘s strategic utility in the 21st century, so much so, that in the last decade, the Special Operations Forces (SOF) structure has been limited more by the availability of qualified personnel than either mission requirements or funding. Regardless of the strategic history of modern SOF, research, thinking, and publication largely focus on Special Operations tactics and operational-level planning. Strategic-level thinking about military Special Operations is yet to be adequately developed. In order to bridge this gap, the Joint Special Operations University (JSOU) Strategic Studies Department convened a SOF-Power Workshop in August 2011 to examine the role of military Special Operations (SOF-Power) in national security and the relevance and feasibility of a theory of Special Operations to inform and guide the development and use of Special Operations and SOF. Eleven participants from various SOF and relevant academic backgrounds participated: the SOF Chairs from PME institutions, Senior Fellows from the JSOU Strategic Studies Department, and others from non-military institutions with an interest in SOF strategic utility. In a relatively short time this group critically examined the role of military Special Operations in the 21st century and validated SOF-Power‘s continued strategic utility. From this foundation, the work group concluded the need for a unified theory of Special Operations as a foundational document for the pursuit of education and strategic art within the SOF community, and the greater military and political communities. This report documents the work group‘s insights and conclusions and provides recommendations for a way forward in broadening the strategic art in regard to SOF-Power.

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A Theory of Special Operations: The Origins, Qualities and Use of SOF by Robert G. Spulak, Jr.

Building on Rear Admiral William McRaven's seminal work "Spec Ops: Case Studies in Special Operations Warfare: Theory and Practice," Dr. Spulak expands McRaven's theory beyond direct action and small raid concepts and builds a theory of SOF looking at SOF as a whole and across the spectrum of operations. He focuses on SOF attributes and how they allow SOF to accomplish missions beyond the capabilities of conventional forces. Through the prism of the principles of war, the author argues SOF's inherent capabilities allow them to overcome the risk and obstacles that would preclude conventional forces from undertaking the mission. 

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The Changing Nature of Warfare, the Factors Mediating Future Conflict, and Implications for SOF by John B. Alexander

This paper challenges the prevailing sentiment regarding the nature of war. Designed to generate discussion on topics where little or none has been acceptable, it pushes the envelope of traditional political and military science thinking. It argues that the nature of war has changed at a fundamental level-that of definition. Further, information technology is so pervasive and interpenetrating that its impact cannot be relegated to mere alteration in the techniques by which war is prosecuted. Rather, information technology facilitates new social structures, exacerbates competing hierarchical beliefs, and, combined with other factors, enhances the ability of powerful nations, or other philosophical organizations, to impose their will on adversaries. 

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Coast Guard SOF by Gary R. Bowen

 This paper examines the Coast Guard's historic participation in special operations and posits a requirement for the Coast Guard to designate a special operations force today-Coast Guard SOF. Lieutenant Commander Bowen advances a timely argument for the formation of additional SOF units, Coast Guard (CG) SOF units, at a time when USSOCOM is under pressure to expand SOF capabilities. Bowen argues that the Coast Guard has considerable experience fighting terrorists, insurgents, and criminal networks, all of which have the cellular, compartmented structures that describe the current threats in the global war on terrorism. These are the same threats that US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) seeks to thwart by means of its global campaign plan to synchronize the counterterrorism efforts of the Department of Defense.

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Theoretical Perspectives of Terrorist Enemies as Networks by Robert G. Spulak, Jr. and Jessica Glicekn Turnley

Social and physical networks have many similarities, and many differences. And while network analysis can be useful for defeating an adversary's physical networked infrastructure, such as power grids or transportation systems, it is only a piece of a larger toolkit when working with a human system. Indeed, human will and adaptability are critical aspects of a network that might otherwise be viewed as purely technical. We compare and contrast approaches from the physical and social sciences, using networks to highlight the advantages and disadvantages of using the same analytic perspective for significantly different targets. We conclude with a discussion of the networks suggested by the National Military Strategic Plan for the War on Terrorism. 

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The Evolving Requirements of the Canadian Special Operations Forces: Future Concept Paper by  J. Paul de B. Taillon

The current world situation of widespread terror organizations and insurgencies highlights the need for Special Operations Forces (SOF). Canada's decision to establish a SOF capability (CANSOF) in 1992 indicates their desire to possess a strategic SOF resource to meet these threats. Dr. Taillon argues that this need remains and requires a more robust and expanded SOF capability to handle strategic challenges to Canada. He discusses morphing demographics and limited resources available to the Canadian military as critical issues in future CANSOF development. The British and American models of recruiting and training special operations forces offer useful models and he draws a sensible parallel with SOF recruiting in his native Canada.