AFSOC Aims to Build Force-Wide Expeditionary Warfare Skills

Air Force Special Operations Command boss? Lt. Gen. Jim Slife looks out over Melrose Air Force Range, N.M., during an immersion tour on July 15, 2019. Air Force photo by SrA. Vernon R. Walter III.

The new head of Air Force Special Operations Command says the niche organization will get closer to other parts of the service so the Air Force can wage war from austere locations across the globe—a traditionally special-operations skill that the Pentagon wants to adopt more broadly.

“We’re looking to help the rest of the Air Force learn some of the things that we’ve learned over the years, as well as to enable the rest of the Air Force in many ways,” Lt. Gen. James C. Slife told reporters Sept. 16 at the Air Force Association’s Air, Space & Cyber Conference. “For example, we’ve had a number of exercises we’ve done at a series of things with [Air Combat Command, Pacific Air Forces, US Air Forces in Europe,] where we’ve used AFSOC C-130s and AFSOC airmen to refuel fighters in forward, unimproved landing strips to generate high sortie tempo for those fighter aircraft.”

Slife argues that AFSOC is traditionally seen more as a US Special Operations Command component than a piece of the Air Force, but that will change.

“The SOCOM components have all discovered over time that we are most effective when we’re closest to our parent services,” he said. “One of the things that is really going to be a central feature of my tenure at AFSOC is growing the ties that we have with our other [major commands] throughout the Air Force.”

Adaptive basing and expeditionary warfare are at the core of the 2018 National Defense Strategy, which envisions more flexible, responsive operations in areas without a built-up military presence. Air Force officials have also said they are thinking through new approaches to logistics and the supply chain that don’t depend on established bases and long lead times.

AFSOC is adapting its strengths to the new strategy, which centers on conflict with other advanced militaries, as well.

“One of the things that is an organizational competency of SOCOM, of [special-operations forces] writ large, is the ability to operate across the spectrum of attribution and visibility,” Slife said. “There are a lot of capabilities that SOF brings to the joint force that allow us to provide options to our policymakers.”