Debate has swirled around whether Adm. William McRaven, commander of Special Operations Command, will retire this August on his three-year anniversary. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP)
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TAMPA, FLA. — In August, the top special operations officer, Adm. William McRaven, will mark the third anniversary of his taking the helm of the Special Operations Command at MacDill Air Force Base here, the traditional amount of time a SOCOM leader serves.
Introducing the admiral before the opening address at the SOFIC industry conference here on May 20, retired Maj. Gen. Barry Bates, director of operations for the National Defense Industry Association, was the first to note that McRaven’s three-year tenure is coming up fast.
Bates said the 2014 conference “might be the last” for McRaven, to which the admiral merely smiled.
There hasn’t been any word about the admiral’s retirement plans, and his predecessor, Adm. Eric Olson, actually extended the traditional tour, serving for four years before handing off to McRaven in August 2011.
A SOCOM spokesman said that Bates’ comments were merely “speculation,” and that DoD makes all of the official announcements about changes of command for combatant commands, noting there has been no announcement from Washington of McRaven’s tenure or eventual replacement.
McRaven has been relatively quiet in recent months as his ambitious “Global SOF Network” idea continues to take shape, but he resurfaced here for a keynote talk to kick off the SOFIC industry conference.
Actually, instead of delivering his prepared remarks, he went right into a question and answer session. McRaven wasn’t eager to talk about Afghanistan, saying that he was more interested in speaking about what capabilities his operators in the field need.
But questions about Afghanistan persisted.
“Our relationship with our Afghan partners is fabulous,” he said. But “we are not naďve to the challenges in Afghanistan; the Afghans are not naďve with the challenges in Afghanistan. I think as long as we continue to partner, as long as we continue to talk, we are going to collectively move in the right direction.”
The White House has yet to determine how many — if any — US troops will remain in Afghanistan in 2015 and beyond, and McRaven said that while he doesn’t know “what those final numbers are going to look like ... if there are SOF forces left there we will continue to partner at the appropriate level with our Afghan partners.”
When it comes to new technologies, SOCOM is most excited about the tactical assault light operator suit (TALOS), otherwise known as the “Iron Man suit,” which officials hope will be deployed by 2018.
The TALOS system is being developed by a team of almost 100 industry, academic and military partners working on a vision of an independently powered armored suit that may include an exoskeleton. SOCOM and the development teams are working through a “rapid prototyping session” right now that will wrap up in June.
Developing and fielding the suit quickly is a continuation of what SOCOM does, McRaven said.
“The acquisition process [for SOCOM] has got to be different because there is an expectation that we will put capability in the hands of operators rapidly,” he told the assembled industry members.