Air Force Special Operations Command hosted a weapons and tactics conference, Aug. 24 – Sept. 3, 2020. The conference facilitated a forum for special operations forces and combat air force’s tactical experts to conduct focused working groups to address tactical and operational problem sets and accomplish a tactics review board.
The theme for the 2020 WEPTAC conference is “Competing Now and in the Next Conflict – SOF Operations in the Joint Fight.” Operators and tacticians within AFSOC identified potential tactical deficiencies and worked to develop tactics, techniques and procedures to overcome deficiencies and continue to advance AFSOC’s creativity and capability.
“What we do here will inform the CAF WEPTAC (combat air forces weapons and tactics conference) in January for hard problem sets and the great power competition,” said U. S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Mike Martin, AFSOC director of operations, during his opening remarks. “There will be lasting effects for a decade as we shape thought and opportunity, we’re changing variables and dynamics for AFSOC, the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Special Operations Command.”
Throughout the last two decades, AFSOC largely focused on a counter- violent extremist organizations fight with SOF ground commanders. This year’s WEPTAC took a decidedly different approach to shift efforts to challenges outlined in the National Defense Strategy and National Military Strategy. The WEPTAC conference offered an opportunity to work and integrate with CAF counterparts in order to force new dilemmas and complicate an adversary’s response to the joint force.
In his welcoming address to the attendees, the AFSOC commander stated, “Much like the strategic inflection point that occurred after 9/11, we find ourselves in rapidly changing landscape in 2020,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Jim Slife. “Pre 9-11, we were executing rapid crisis response, conducting short-duration contingency operations, and most frequently supporting the larger joint force with specialized capabilities.”
Slife explained two fundamental changes that followed the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001: SOF transitioned from short duration crisis and contingency response to sustained combat operations, and SOF becoming the supported force.
“For instance, after 9/11, the 4th Special Operations Squadron was deployed for nearly 18 straight years,” Slife explained.
In the wake of the changing security and fiscal environments Slife highlighted, the WEPTAC conference attendees broke out into two types of working groups: mission area working groups and mission design series working groups. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, participants, including members of U.S. Special Operations Command Pacific and U.S. Special Operations Command Europe, attended virtually.
The MAWGs were built using a cross-section of subject matter experts from operational, intelligence and industry backgrounds who exhibit all facets of air and ground tactical expertise, and work through potential future problem sets. Each MDS addressed specific tactical improvement proposals in mobility and strike functional areas. The working groups provided a wide variety of products that will help fuel innovative solutions or will spur further research by other entities.
The conference is an opportunity for Airmen in AFSOC to focus on their unique capabilities and solutions to provide a competitive advantage for the joint force. The efforts at WEPTAC serve as an example of the ongoing commitment to AFSOC’s Strategic Guidance to prepare for security solutions tightly aligned with national-level strategies. Specifically, WEPTAC is aligned with the line of effort focused on equipping AFSOC forces with the concepts, equipment and personnel needed to compete and win.
“We are at another inflection point and the strategic landscape has shifted fundamentally, yet again underneath us,” Slife noted. “The AFSOC we needed is not the AFSOC we will need.”