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Special Ops Doctrine?

stew smith

Recent Special Operations in the news as well as the Act of Valor movie about Navy SEALs has prompted many people to ask my opinion. Though this is not my profession and area of expertise, I do have an opinion and it may surprise many who ask:

"What is your opinion of the movie Act of Valor using active duty Navy SEALs and recent publicity in the news?"

I like to think, someone much smarter than I has already figured this out and all of this is likely current doctrine or a PSYOPS program for all I know. After recent events of SEALs / US Special Forces in the news and movies, I wanted to share my thoughts on the topic of the publicity and Special Operations. I am well aware many may have differing opinions on this topic, but since the cat is out of the bag, we have to deal with the fact that our Special Operations Forces is BIG NEWS and, I think, part of a new doctrine of Strategic Deterrence.

*BUT - we should never discuss TACTICS of HOW we pulled off these missions as the enemy can be bettered prepared next time. We should definitely now divulge SEAL Team 6 / Delta Force etc type groups as who pulled off these operations. It would be similar to outing a CIA agent and putting lives of operators / family in danger.*


Strategic Deterrence: The prevention of adversary aggression or coercion that threatens vital interests of the United States and/or our national survival. Strategic deterrence convinces adversaries not to take grievous courses of action by means of decisive influence over their decision making.

When I was a student at the Naval Academy in the late 80’s, we were focused on one enemy – the USSR. We were deep into the Cold War and our Political Sciences were focused on Communism in Russia, China, and Third World nations. I personally was focused on this, even taking Russian language for four years. Yet, after 1991, with the fall of the Soviet Union, my studies immediately became a History degree.

Since the end of World War II, our countries were engaged in a constant "battle" where we competed on every level of Strategic Deterrence. The doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) was how we fought our enemy. Nuclear weapons systems within the Air Force, Navy, even Intelligence Departments was how both sides prevented the other from attacking. The USSR had their KGB and we had the CIA. They had the GRU, we had the DIA and Special Operations Forces. Everything was secret – super secret – cosmic TOP secret. This was Symmetric Warfare defined. The Special Operations roots of “quiet professional” and “unknown soldiers” stem from this doctrine. It maybe time to shift from that way of thinking?

Asymmetric Warfare

Though the concept of Asymmetric Warfare is not new, but it is now more relevant than ever. For the past decade, our enemy is much different. Our new enemy is tactically deadly with desires to become strategically deadly by acquiring weapons of mass destruction (WMD) including nuclear weapons. Rogue state and terrorist organizations require the United States to be more mobile in its defense, more surgical in its operations, in other words – it has become Special Warfare centric.

Today’s threats are far more diverse and less predictable than those of the past. States hostile to the United States and to our friends and allies have demonstrated their willingness to take high risks to achieve their goals, and are aggressively pursuing WMD and their means of delivery as critical tools in this effort. As a consequence, we require new methods of deterrence.

National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction, December 2002.

About Movie and Publicity

Recent Spec Ops missions and the movie Act of Valor have publicly demonstrated our capabilities which is good to a degree - BUT it has also overexposed our tactics (not all - but some). I think - having the ability to show up anywhere in the world, unseen and unheard, and pulling a terrorist out of his bed in the middle of the night, killing him or taking him wherever we desire, is a HUGE deterrent to any young, potential terrorist. It may or may not have a deterrent affect on hard liners, but the next generation of terrorists may have enough recollections of "devils with green faces" taking their terrorist forefathers away from their safe houses. Having these capabilities publicized is part of the doctrine, but we have to make sure that our Special Operator’s personal safety is not at risk while abroad or at home. We also have to make sure that the media does not FULLY receive the tactics utilized by our Special Operations Forces. If they receive any tactics at all they should be erroneous and out-dated at best. The question is can we safely do this? I hope so, BUT not all operations need to be publicized, just some of them will do the trick.

Read more information of this topic:

Boxed Information from:

Strategic Deterrence Joint Operating Concept

Asymmetric Warfare Doctrine info:

Send me an email and I may post it up as an article next week. You can contact me at

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