WASHINGTON, DC - Today, Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), Chairwoman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities, made the following remarks, as prepared for delivery, on the Subcommittee's hearing titled “Evolution, Transformation, and Sustainment: A Review of the Fiscal Year 2019 Budget Request for U.S. Special Operations Forces and Command.” For testimony and to watch the hearing click here.
I am pleased to welcome everyone to this very important hearing entitled, 'Evolution, Transformation, and Sustainment: A Review of the Fiscal Year 2019 Budget Request for U.S. Special Operations Forces and Command.'
The fiscal year 2019 budget request for U.S. Special Operations Command totals more than $13.6 billion dollars, an approximate 10% increase, and the largest request ever submitted. It also seeks additional personnel authorizations, putting the total size of the force above 71,000; the largest ever envisioned.
While I am pleased to see continued fiscal support for Special Operations Forces, it is deeply troubling to see continued dependency on Overseas Continued Operations funding. This problem is most acute in the Operations and Maintenance accounts where OCO is an alarming 33%. One year ago, before this very committee, General Thomas wisely noted that such dependency has created a force that is quote 'largely a facade.' End quote. Unfortunately, we find ourselves in the same place today, if not worse. Working together, we must commit to remedy this imbalance, and I look forward to talking about concrete ways in which this committee can help, while you continue to help yourselves.
This 10% budget increase also reminds us that we must work to ensure we are not choosing quantity over quality; and that Special Operations Forces remain balanced across the entirety of the Joint Operating Force and the Military Services, who are themselves experiencing near-existential Readiness crises.
The recently released National Defense Strategy indeed places Special Operations Forces central to efforts across the full spectrum of non-state and state threats. Rising and asymmetric challenges posed by Russia and China, and the potential for contingencies on the Korean peninsula, impair our ongoing efforts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Somalia. All this, while SOF also maintains a presence in some 80 additional countries today. Now, more than ever, we run the risk of over-extending our Special Operations Forces who are central to our national defense.
Of particular concern, we see the fight in Syria changing. More and more, our forces are engaging Russian and Syrian regime proxies, as most recently seen in the aggressive fighting in Der az-Zur. The defeat of ISIS now reveals the fingerprints of the larger geo-political fight we are engaged in, putting at risk current authorities, frameworks, and partnerships. And, not to mention, the considerable risk to our forces on the ground in an already clouded and fractured battlefield.
I look forward to hearing from both of our witnesses today how our Special Operations Forces are postured to support the new National Defense Strategy, while also continuing forward as the main line of effort in our current efforts across the globe.
A large part of this subcommittees charge is looking far ahead to consider 'What's Next?' In doing so - I see many challenges, but also great opportunities in emerging technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Quantum computing, nanotechnology, Synthetic Biology, The Internet of Things, and many others that will provide a significant battlefield advantage for Special Operations Forces and the broader Joint Force. We must ensure that we are doing everything we can to push the technological edge and maintain a battlefield advantage. Rest assured, our near-peer adversaries are already aggressively exploring these technologies, which present both economic and national security challenges for our nation.
To this end, I am somewhat disappointed that SOCOM's budget request decreases Research and Development funding for a second year in a row. I look forward to hearing the rational for this and taking any necessary steps to ensure we do not lose our technological and battlefield advantages.
Needless to say, we have a lot of ground to cover today.
I would like to welcome both of our witnesses:
● Mr. Owen West, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict; and,
● General Tony Thomas, Commander of U.S. Special Operations Command
Since this is Mr. West's first appearance before the House Armed Services Committee, let me congratulate you on your confirmation as Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations, and we look forward to working with you."