Special Operations News Update – May 15, 2023

Osprey Aerial Refueling

Curated news, analysis, and commentary about special operations, national security, and conflicts around the world.

Photo / Image: An Airman assigned to the 1st Special Operations Squadron oversees the aerial refueling of a CV-22 Osprey from an MC-130J Commando II during a training mission as part of Freedom Shield 23 over the Sea of Japan.

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SOF News

New CO for SEAL Training Center. A planned change of command occurred earlier than usual at the training center for SEAL candidates. This was related to the death of a SEAL trainee last year. “SEAL Training Center Gets New CO Early as Navy Continues Inquire Following 2022 Trainee Death”, USNI News, May 2, 2023.

Delta’s ‘Jump Haters Club’. If you are in Delta Force then you freefall. But not all ‘operators’ enjoy falling through the sky without a canopy deployed above their head. George Hand explains, with some humor, in “Delta Force Jump Haters Club: Not All Operators Like Skydiving”, SANDBOXX, May 3, 2023.

PSD is now the RSAR. Acronyms are everything for the military . . . and this is especially true when describing weapons. So the Personal Defense Weapon (PSD) is now being called by U.S. Special Operations Command as the Reduced Signature Assault Rifle (RSAR). It appears that there is an order in for 800 of the weapons. “Upgraded Assault Rifles in Store for Commandos”, by Scott R. Gourley, National Defense Magazine, May 3, 2023.

AC-130 Gunship Laser Weapon Update. The Airborne High Energy Laser (AHEL) system planned for the Ghostrider is probably going to run into some implementation delays. The aircraft are undergoing modifications that will require a new round of integration work and testing. “AC-130 Gunship Laser Weapon Program’s Future Is Looking Blurry”, The War Zone, May 11, 2023.

SOF and Proxy Forces. Newly disclosed documents obtained by the NYTs through the FOIA include special operations forces directives for managing counterterrorism and irregular warfare surrogate fighters. SOF are not required to vet for past human rights violations by the foreign troops they arm and train as surrogates through the “127 Echo” and “1202” programs. “Rules for Pentagon Use of Proxy Forces Shed Light ona Shadowy War Power”, The New York Times, May 14, 2023. (subscription)

AFSOC Establishes New Directorate. The Air Force Special Operations Command established the Air Commando Development Directorate (A7) which will provide policy, oversight, and guidance to support AFSOC’s collective training. It will also lead the command’s pivot to a Mission Command culture. The Air Commando Development Center will be located at Hurlburt Field. “AFSOC establishes new directorate: A7 Air Commando Development”, DVIDS, May 12, 2023.

AFSOC’s Use of Highways as a Runway. An MC-130J Commando II from the 15th Special Operations Squadron recently used a highway during an exercise. Prior to the landing Airmen parachuted from the MC-130J to secure the highway runway for the aircraft. The event was part of Exercise Agile Chariot. A MQ-9 Reaper, two A-10s, and two MH-6M Little Bird helicopters were also in play. (Business Insider, May 4, 2023).

Emerald Warrior 23 and AFSOC. A recently held exercise at Hurlburt Field, Homestead Air Force Base, and Puerto Rico provided realistic and relevant training that integrated full spectrum special operations in a complex environment. The exercise included a Special Operations Task Group (SOTG) and Special Operations Task Unit (SOTU) at distant locations. “Emerald Warrior 23 hones Mission Command in environment of competition”, AFSOC, May 12, 2023.

SERE School Myths. Steve Balestrieri exposes some of the myths associated with the Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape training conducted at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. “Breaking Down the SERE School Myths: How Accurate Are They?”, SANDBOXX, May 12, 2023.

Less Iron Man, More 007. USSOCOm is shifting its focus to creating hyper-enabled operators with omniscience-like capabilities. It will be using artificial intelligence (AI) and instant translators to counter high-tech adversaries like China and Russia. This change reflects SOCOM’s changing expectations about where its operators will be and what roles they will play. “Tomorrow’s Special Operator? Less Iron Man, More 007”, Defense One, May 9, 2023.

EW Loitoring Systems at SOF Week 2023. U.S. Special Operations Command is prioritising loitering technologies to support counter-violent extremist organizations (C-VEO) operations and strategic competition. Some of these loitering platforms could feature electronic warfare (EW) payloads. “USSOCOM eyes loitering systems for EW, other functions”, Janes, May 15, 2023.

Mk16 SCAR-L. In the mid-2002s the United Special Operations Command was searching for a replacement for the M4 carbine. The command came up with two solutions: the SCAR-L and SCAR-H. But only one was adopted. “Why the Mk16 SCAR-L failed with Special Forces”, We Are the Mighty, May 12, 2023.

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International SOF

CCM Vessels Going to Norway. Two Combatant Craft Medium vessesl are being built for Norway; work that is expected to be completed in 2025. “US Builder ReconCraft to Produce Special Forces Boats for Norway”, MarineLink, May 12, 2023.

Wagner Group in Africa. The Russian paramilitary group is expanding its efforts in Africa. One of its efforts is to displace the U.S., France, and other countries efforts in assisting African nations in their fight against jihadist groups. However, the Wagner Group effect is a light one – it has provided limited commitmetns in counterterrorism missions and its impact on the African jihadist landscape is less powerful than some have anticipated. “Russia, Wanger, and the Future of Counterterrorism in Africa”, Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, May 15, 2023.

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SOF History

OSS and the Colt M1903. During World War II the Office of Strategic Services used a variety of weapons in the field. It didn’t have an ‘official pistol’ but a favorite was the M1903 Pocket Hammerless made by Colt. It was easily carried in coat pockets. “This is Why the Colt M1903 Was the Pistol of Choice of the OSS”, by Travis Pike, SANDBOXX, May 4, 2023.

History of Covert Ops. A brief history of the world of elite secret units called upon for dangerous and difficult missions is provided in this article. “In the shadows: The art and history of covert ops”, We Are the Mighty, May 9, 2023.

Legendary Cockleshell Heroes. Read about the men who took part in Operation Frankton in December 1941 when British commandos paddle over 60 miles for several days in canoes to reach their targets. Of the ten Marines who participated, only two survived. They were members of the newly formed Special Boat Service (SBS) whose mission was to infiltrate the German-controlled port of St. Nazaire, France and destroy enemy ships. “The daring operation of the legendary Cockleshell heroes”, We Are the Mighty, May 11, 2023.

Ukraine Russia Conflict

Ukraine Conflict

Abrams Tank Training. Ukrainian forces will begin training at the Grafenwoehr Army base in Germany within two to three weeks. The training, expected to last about 10 weeks, will be completed about the same time that the 31 Abrams tank being supplied to Ukraine will be ready. The tanks and crews will likely be in Ukraine by the fall. “US Abrams tanks for training Ukrainian forces arrive in Germany early”, Marine Corps Times, May 12, 2023.

Russia’s Elite Units – Heavy Losses. Russia’s clandestine Spetsnaz forces have been put to use alongside the infantry, suffering massive numbers of dead and wounded. “Russia’s command units gutted by Ukraine war, U.S. leak shows”, The Washington Post, April 14, 2023. (subscription)

Russia Denied a Victory in Bakhmut. Many national security observers forcasted a victory for Russia in the small industrial city of Bakhumt in Eastern Ukraine by ‘Victory Day’. After massive casualties on both sides the Russians failed to take the city by the May 9th celebration. this was due to a fierce defense by the Ukrainians and aggressive offensive moves around the outskirts of the city. However, the battle for the city is not over; the Russians keep pouring in more fresh troops. “How Ukrainian forces denied Russia victory in Bakhmut by Victory Day”, The Washington Post, May 12, 2023. (subscription)

U.S. Provides Air Defense Systems. The U.S. will provide Ukraine with a $1.2 billion package to bolster the country’s air defenses and sustain its artillery needs. More 155mm artillery rounds are headed to that country. (DoD, May 9, 2023).

Ukraine SOF. The special operations forces of Ukraine once learned advanced tactics from US and UK experts. Now, with combat experience, Ukrainians are teaching their SOF counterparts a thing or two. “Ukrainain Special Operations Forces (UASOF) – They’re Coming for You”, Kyiv Post, May 13, 2023.

Lessons from Ukraine. At the recent SOF Week 2023 held last week in Tampa, Florida, General Bryan Fenton talked about lessons learned from Ukraine. One was that the U.S. should “be there early”. In 2014 when Russia invaded Ukraine and seized parts of the eastern portion of the country and Crimea the U.S. sent in advisors and trainers to assist the Ukraine military. This helped set the stage for preparing Ukraine for the February 2022 Russian invasion. “Gotta be there early: America special ops lessons from Ukraine”, Breaking Defense, May 9, 2023.

UK Storm Shadow Missiles. The United Kingdom is sending long-range missiles to Ukraine to help that nation fight the Russian invasion. The cruise missiles have a range of over 155 miles (250 km) and are fired from aircraft; allowing Ukrainian pilots to launch them further away from the frontlines. “UK confirms supply of Storm Shadow long-range missiles in Ukraine”, BBC News, May 11, 2023.

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Sudan Conflict and Evac of Foreign Nationals

Update on the conflict between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and Rapid Support Forces (RSF), ceasefire, humanitarian crisis, and evacuation of foreign nationals.

UK Finishes Flight Evacs. The final United Kingdom flight from Sudan took place on May 4, 2023. The UK had been flying British citizens as well as other foreign nationals to Cyprus. “Final UK evacuation flights leave Port Sudan, Foreign Office says”, Forces.net, May 4, 2023.

Hard Borders to Cross. As the fighting continues in Sudan huge amounts of civilians are fleeing to neighboring countries. It is a dangerous journey to the border but the struggle isn’t over once arriving. “Hard Borders and little aid: How civilians are escaping Sudan’s conflict”, The New Humanitarian, May 1, 2023. See also “A ticket to anywhere: Stories of grief and relief on a bus out of Khartoum”, The New Humanitarian, May 2, 2023.

Sudan and Missed Opportunity. The U.S. Navy responded to the Sudan evacuation by moving three ships to the Red Sea. One of them became involved in the evacuation of U.S. citizens from Port Sudan to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. However, these ships were not suited for this type of operation . . . and the Navy does not have enough of the ones needed for a presence in most areas of the globe. Read more in “Evacuating Sudan: An amphibious gap and missed opportunity”, by Adm. James G. Foggi (ret.), Defense News, May 3, 2023. See also “US Marines abdicating a rescue role to China”, Asis Times, May 6, 2023.

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Putin, Xi, and a Declining America. The three most important leaders in the world are maneuvering to position their nation in a favorable strategic position (diplomatically, economically, and militarily). One is on the path to succeed. One is utterly failing according to Lela Gilbert and Lt. Gen. (Ret.) William Boykin. “Xi and Putin Raise Global Stakes While Biden Touts Reelection”, The Washington Stand, May 2, 2023.

SOF and the ‘Irregular’ Cold War. Paul Burton, a retired Special Forces Colonel writes about irregular warfare and the new Cold War of strategic competition. “This is Not Your Father’s Cold War – It’s Irregular”, Small Wars Journal, May 5, 2023.

SOF and Lawyers. Dan Pace, a freshly retired Special Forces officer, provides his thoughts on the SF CONOP process and the legal system that reviews them. “Too Many Lawyers – Why Legalism is Undermining Ethical Conduct in the SOF Community”, Real Clear Defense, May 10, 2023.

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National Security

Border Crisis. At the request of the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Defense will provide an additional 1,500 military personnel to supplement U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) efforts on the U.S. Southwest border. The 3-month deployment will provide support in ground-based detection and monitoring, date entry, and warehouse support until the CBP can fill those needs through contracted support. The increase of troops is related to an anticipated jump in border crossers over the next several weeks (Title 42). (DoD News, May 2, 2023).

DoD Releases NDSTS. The Department of Defense released the National Defense Science and Technology Strategy which articulates the science and technology priorities, goals, and investments of the DoD and makes recommendations on the future of the defense research and engineering enterprise. It identifies three lines of effort; focus on the Joint Mission, created and field capabilities at speed and scale, and ensure the foundations for research and development. It also will continue to emphasize the 14 Critical Technology Areas detailed in the DoD CTO’s Strategic Vision. “DoD Releases National Defense Science and Technology Strategy”, DoD News, May 9, 2023.

Philippines and Bilateral Defense Guidelines. On May 3, 2023, the U.S and Philippines formalized its alliance cooperation with new ‘guidelines’. Read about it in a Fact Sheet (PDF, 2 pages) published by the DoD.

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Great Power Competition

Russia in the Arctic. Elizabeth Buchanan provides commentary on the major geopolitical ramifications stemming from overlapping international seabed claims for the North Pole. Russia has been using international law and legal processes to buttress its claims on the Arctic region. And it has gained ground in this effort. However, Russia also has some ‘muscle’ in the region. It operates 40-plus icebreakers while the U.S. can only claim two Arctic-capable icebreakers. Its military capabilities in the Arctic could over-match that of the U.S. So what it can’t achieve through negotiations and legal proceedings (think about Ukraine) it very well might attain through more forceful means. “Russia’s Gains in the Great Arctic Race”, War on the Rocks, May 4, 2023.

Geopolitical Interests of Russia in the Arctic. The high north is essential for Russia for military and economic reasons. Its Northern Fleet, with nuclear-capable subs, is located in the Arctic. A significant portion of its natural gas and oil production takes place there. The Northern Sea Rout is becoming increasingly relevant as a connection to Asian markets. Minna Alander, as research fellow at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, provides the details. “High North, High Tension: The End of Artic Illusions”, Foreign Policy Research Institute, May 11, 2023.


SF Network in Taiwan? The United States is making preparations for Ukraine-style military operations in the Pacific. The U.S. Army Special Operations Command (USASOC) conducted drills simulating operations on Taiwan. These were part of an annual exercise known as CAPEX held at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Some in Congress have highlighted the role the U.S. Special Forces has had in assisting Ukraine in the fight against the Russians. They believe the same can be done for Taiwan. “Building a US Special Forces ‘Stealth Network’ on Taiwan”, The Diplomat, May 3, 2023.

ROK and Japan: History vs. Common Interests. A new reality is setting in with ties between two Asian nations. Common strategic interests are submerging the issues of history that have long divided them. Clearly this is good for U.S. interests in the region in light of the current strategic environment with the People’s Republic of China. But there is more work to be done in the future to solidify the relationship. “The Rising Tide of Japan-South Korea Relations”, Lawfare Blog, May 12, 2023.

Middle East

SF Fight With Russian Mercenaries in Syria. In 2018, a small group of Green Berets were in a fierce battle with over 500 Russian mercenaries. At the end of the fight hundreds of Russians were dead and ten Russian tanks destroyed. “Special Forces Soldiers Reveal First Details of Battle With Russian Mercenaries in Syria”, The War Horse, May 11, 2023.

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Guest Writers for SOF News

SOF News welcomes the submission of articles for publication. If it is related to special operations, current conflicts, national security, or defense then we are interested.

Books about Special Forces Training

Books, Pubs, and Reports

CRS – Finland in NATO. On April 4, 2023, Finland acceded to NATO, enlarging the alliance to 31 members. Sweden’s accession has been delayed by Turkey. Read more in “NATO: Finland Joins as Sweden’s Accession Faces Delay”, Congressional Research Service, April 7, 2023.

CRS – Wagner Group in Africa. The Russian private military company (PMC) has expanded its presence in Africa over the past six years. Wagner provides security services in several African countries and its affiliates are involved in mining and commercial activities. Read more in “Russia’s Wagner Group in Africa: Issues for Congress”, Congressional Research Service, April 26, 2023.

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Podcasts, Videos, and Movies

Video – SOF Week 2023: GSOF reflects on a successful first SOF Week. Stuart Bradin, President and CEO of the Global SOF Foundation, looks back over the past four days of SOF Week and outlines plans for next year’s event. Shephard Media, YouTube, May 15, 2023.

Video – SOF Week 2023: Acquistion Executive USSOCOM Interview. Jim Smith, Acquisition Executive – U.S. Special Operations Command, outlines his priorities and requirements during SOF Week 2023. Shephard Media, YouTube, May 10, 2023.

Video – SOF Week 2023: PEO Rotary Wing Interview. Geoffrey Downer, Program Executive officer for USSOCOM’s RW program talks about current priorities and challenges. Shephard Media, YouTube, May 10, 2023.

Video – NSW: Mission Success Demands a High Performance Team. A great recruiting video by Naval Special Warfare Command, NSW Facebook, May 3, 2023, one minute.

Podcast – The Cyber-SOF-Space Triad. Lieutenant General Jonathan P. Braga, commanding general of US Army Special Operations Command, and P.W. Singer, an author and national security ‘futurist’, explore the range of future threats that Army special operations forces will encounter, discuss how to harness the power of innovation to enable them to meet these threats, and recommend ways to optimize these uniquely trained and equipped soldiers and units for the future of irregular warfare. Irregular Warfare Podcast, Modern War Institute at West Point, May 5, 2023, 54 minutes.

Podcast – Security Force Assistance: Building Armies (Afghanistan Lessons). MG Donn Hill, the Commander of Security Force Assistance Command, talks about what the U.S. Army learned about SFA, building balanced and sustainable foreign security forces, and operationalizing the lessons learned from Afghanistan. He also talks about the mission of the Army’s Security Force Assistance Brigades or SFABs. War Room, U.S. Army War College, May 5, 2023.

Podcasts Channels

SOFCAST. United States Special Operations Command

The Pinelander. Blacksmith Publishing

The Indigenous Approach. 1st Special Forces Command

Irregular Warfare Podcast. Modern War Institute at West Point

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SOF News provides news, analysis, commentary, and information about special operations forces (SOF) from around the world.