MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. – Planners from U.S. Special Operations Command, U.S. Army Special Operations
Command, 12 partner nations, and others from various organizations met here Jan. 13 to 15 for one of four planning events in support of exercise SILENT QUEST 15-1.
SILENT QUEST is a USASOC tabletop exercise that assesses concepts, capabilities, and capacities required to meet
strategic and operational challenges that Army Special Operations Forces can expect to encounter in 2020 and beyond.
“The scenario uses a Special Operations-centric campaign that is characterized by a multi-year, small-footprint, scalable
design, incorporating SOF, conventional force, joint, multinational, and interagency actions,” said Army Lt. Col. Gittipong
Paruchabutr, SILENT QUEST plans officer for USASOC.
Regional stability is a key component of the exercise, which is focused on North Africa.
“There is lots of ungoverned space and myriad issues that we are dealing with today that (the coalition is) familiar with, and
our countries are already there,” said Matt Pascual, the Africa desk officer for the Euro-Africa Support Group, USSOCOM.
Army Lt. Gen. Charles Cleveland, USASOC commander, decided multi-national participation and perspectives would be a critical asset in the planning and execution of the exercise, Paruchabutr said. He added that partner nation participation will help accurately reflect the future operating environment.
“Potentially shaping future USASOC doctrine and other initiatives are some of the benefits to our partner nations,” said Paruchabutr, “but most importantly, we increase trust and interoperability between our countries.”
Danish Army Lt. Col. Lars Soerensen, an exchange officer at USSOCOM, agrees on the many assets these global partnerships create.
“When USASOC opened this up, we were excited because this is an opportunity to affect the process and bring in a broader perspective to how we can see warfighting in the 21st century,” Soerensen said. “We all have a different way of doing things. What is fascinating about USSOCOM is its global community, and in order to have the ability to act fast, we need to be global.”
Being able to plug into a global network is key for the foreign liaison officers and U.S. staff members. This particular exercise allows all participants to align their processes and procedures.
“It’s important at the first step to create a basic understanding of how to inter-operate throughout the world with our partners,” said Soerensen. “It can be difficult and time consuming to create partnerships and understanding later on.”
The proactive approach has helped create a common community and dialogue here at USSOCOM, forging a stronger base of multinational forces. This is the first time international partners have participated in the planning and execution of this exercise.
“The biggest change we are making is in our perspective, from a U.S.-centric view of a problem set to a multinational view that includes our own national interests as well as our partners’,” said Army Lt. Col. Michael Davis, J-3 International desk officer.
“In order to strengthen and expand this global SOF network, working alongside our partners anywhere in the world, we need to start with exercises like SILENT QUEST so that we are familiar with our partners’ interests, authorities, and policies before we conduct operations together.”
Bringing planners together at all levels of leadership makes all participants stakeholders -- reinforcing diversity, yet ensuring early on that everyone is working toward common goals.
“The U.S. has certain ways of doing things, and our ways may be similar to how our partners do things, but there’s always a certain amount of collaboration and coordination that needs to take place to make sure we work together as seamlessly as possible,” Davis said.
Norwegian Army Lt. Col. Asbjorn Lysgaard, a foreign liaison officer, agrees that different viewpoints increase the success of collaboration.
“From my perspective, the most important thing here is to have the broad coalition and partner nations present. You’ll get broader, better perspectives on what our nations believe and think for the future,” Lysgaard said.
From a global perspective, many of the problems faced today are interconnected. One of the goals of SILENT QUEST is to contain problems closest to their source, enabling host nations to deal with challenges at their level. This goal falls in line with the 2020 planning guidance of Army Maj. Gen James Linder, commander of Special Operations Command Africa.
When involving international partners, simple but important tasks like agreeing on definitions can be vital, as there is always the possibility of language barriers being present.
“You don’t want to send the wrong message to partner nations. Words such as kinetic strike and raid may have very different meanings to people,” Lysgaard said.
Despite that fact, the benefits created by these partnerships develop networks that contribute to interoperability.
“Integrating components together from the SOF enterprise involves many actors, and building a cohesive plan incorporating other’s viewpoints is valuable,” said Pascual.
“We must consider the sensitivities and the cultural differences in order to have a unified team,” Pascual said. “In this venue, it’s important for our international partners and our U.S. planners to have an international approach from the genesis to the operational phase – especially since we all have real-world experiences and boots on the ground in these regions.”
SILENT QUEST brings together communities of interest and transforms them into communities of action by providing a unique opportunity. “Tabletop exercises like this help us keep our proficiency in planning, responding, and managing the resources we have,” Pascual said.
“It’s important for planners to not only have the academics down, but also build relationships. These foreign liaison officers most often become senior members in their militaries.”
The capstone event for this exercise is a senior leader facilitated discussion hosted by Cleveland taking place this spring.