Defining Critical Technologies For Special Operations

Major Lawrence W. McLaughlin

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As the military forces of the United States continue to draw down, Special Operations Forces (SOF) are playing a greater role across the entire spectrum of conflict. In order to maintain its relative advantage, SOF is using technology as a means to leverage limited resources-sometimes to the point that mission accomplishment depends critically on a technology's availability. Adversaries will attempt to challenge our advantages. Whether Special Operations Forces are prepared to operate in a degraded environment could determine success or failure.This thesis examines the issue of critical technologies in special operations. Critical technologies are defined according to three variables-level of dependence, degree of vulnerability, and substitutability. By examining technologies against these three variables, SOF can gain a better understanding of the impact to SOF operations if a technical capability is lost. Three technologies are examined to illustrate the model-the use of Radar in the Battle of Britain, the Global Positioning System, and UHF Satellite Communications.By applying the model to actual cases, I hope to encourage SOF decision-makers to closely examine our growing reliance on vulnerable technologies as a force multiplier and provide recommendations to prevent undue reliance on those technologies.

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