On 24 March, no doubt in response to the hyperventilating around the more suspicious end of the libertarian blogosphere, the US Army Special Operations Command issued a press release about exercise JADE HELM 15.
The title of the release mentions that this is about preparing at home for threads abroad, and it goes on to say:
USASOC periodically conducts training exercises such as these to practice core special warfare tasks, which help protect the nation against foreign enemies. It is imperative that Special Operations Soldiers receive the best training, equipment and resources possible.
While multi-state training exercises such as these are not unique to the military, the size and scope of Jade Helm sets this one apart. To stay ahead of the environmental challenges faced overseas, Jade Helm will take place across seven states. However, Army Special Operations Forces (ARSOF) will only train in five states: Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado. The diverse terrain in these states replicates areas Special Operations Soldiers regularly find themselves operating in overseas.
The training exercise will be conducted on private and public land with the permission of the private landowners, and from state and local authorities. In essence, all exercise activity will be taking place on pre-coordinated public and private lands.
Do go Read The Whole Thing™, especially if someone has told you the sky is falling. It is not, Mr Little. Everything in that release is ex cathedra stuff that was approved by the boss or his representative for public release, not our informed speculation. (Although we can’t help boasting it tracks our informed spec pretty closely).
More informed speculation follows.
Why are these exercises spread out over such a large area? Because, in wartime, the operation of a Joint Special Operations Task Force (JSOTF) can cover a large, even continental area. (While the exact alignments of SF Groups, Theater Special Operations Commands, and other elements is classified, it’s not rocket surgery to figure out the general areas of responsibility).
Moreover, single SOF missions may involve long, intricate and arduous infiltration/exfiltration means using multiple services’ equipment and personnel. (For example, a flight of over 1,000 miles, with a parachute jump at the end, and the a/c having to fly 1,000 more miles to get home, is not out of the question).
A parachute infiltration is not just training for the jumpers, but it’s training for the aviators and mission planners, too. The skills involved in flying 600 miles to a blind (i.e. unlit, no radio beacon) dropzone you’ve never seen before at low level are completely different from the skills used to run six minute racetracks around Holland DZ at Fort Bragg, or to hold formation on a mass-tactical drop of the 82nd Falling Horde on the much larger Sicily DZ.
Infiltration means are not the only system that needs to be thoroughly shaken out in peacetime exercises, in order to be able to count on it in wartime contingencies. Communications systems also need distance to be tested, especially satellite and HF burst transmissions.
Compare to big combined-arms exercises: while the tankers think that they’re the ones being exercised, at higher HQs they’re sweating the logistics of drawing prepositioned armor or moving units on or off railheads. A well-developed exercise shakes down every echelon and every enabling support function in some way.
In addition to these enabling technologies, one would expect SOF elements in JADE HELM 15 to conduct strategic reconnaissance, direct action, and guerrilla warfare training.
Frankly, we’re pleased to see such a large and sophisticated exercise taking shape. It tells us that SOF is off the back-to-back-deployment treadmill and is able to hone its edge with realistic and effective training again.
That’s a good thing.