COVID SETBACK FOR SOF TRAINING
Asian Military Review|November/December 2020
Special operations training programmes across the Indo-Pacific region have been significantly hampered by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Andrew White

Special operations force (SOF) sources there have indicated to Asian Military Review how bi- and multi-lateral training efforts have been either postponed or cancelled as a direct result of COVID-19. Such restrictions come at a time when SOF units continue to demand improving levels in cooperation and interoperability in order to plan and conduct joint special operations. However, SOF units are refocusing on unilateral training opportunities in order to maintain currency to conduct the full spectrum of special operations.

One of the most high-profile examples of this came during the biennial Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise. Scheduled to be run across the island of Oahu, Hawaii, RIMPAC 2020 had planned to bring together the greatest number of Indo-Pacific SOF elements from across the wider region with participants including US Army Special Forces; South Korean Navy SEALs; Brazil’s GRUMEC; India’s MARCOS; Peru’s Naval Special Warfare; Chile’s COMFUES; The Philippines NAVSOG; and Japan’s Special Boarding Unit.

Due to take place across multiple training locations on Oahu and off the coast including Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam, Marine Corps Base Kaneohe Bay and Bellows Air Force Base, the exercise would have provided an additional opportunity for participating SOF elements to enhance levels of cooperation and interoperability.

Speaking to AMR, service officials from the US Special Operations Command Pacific (SOCPAC) explained how the exercise would have focused on enhancing the “command and control of SOF forces within RIMPAC; multinational interoperability training; direct action raids; and maritime/dive operations”.

SOCPAC also confirmed how RIMPAC 2020 had been scheduled to include ‘Ship in a Box’ training; special insertion by helicopter, military free-fall insertion, small boats and submarines; in addition to visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) operations at sea.

The cancellation of the exercise served a significant blow to Indo-Pacific SOF units seeking to benefit from training serials with US SOF in particular. The next SOF-specific RIMPAC exercise is scheduled to take place in 2022.

In May 2020, South Korean SOF leadership made the decision to postpone or cancel its remaining multi-lateral training programmes in 2020 due to the ongoing pandemic. As AMR went to press, the decision had yet to be revised.

China trains for SOF-on-SOF

The People's Republic of China continues to press ahead with unilateral special operations training despite international travel restrictions associated with the pandemic.

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