The U.S. Special Operations Command celebrated its 20th anniversary this week by giving journalists a rare glimpse inside its closely guarded operations, revealing new equipment for the nation's most secretive -- and fast growing -- military force.
Over the past 20 years, the Pentagon has increasingly relied on the Special Operations Command to do its fighting. With insurgent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan showing no sign of abating anytime soon, demand for special operations troops and equipment is rising and likely to increase further.
Funding for the command has jumped from $3.6 billion in 2000 to a projected $6.1 billion in 2008, and that is without secret budgets or the emergency war-funding bills that have become routine.
The command is boosting troop levels, from 48,000 now to at least 55,000 by 2013. The Marines just began fielding their own special operations unit last year, sending some abroad to train foreign militaries even as they stand up the command.
"I tell my guys, 'Its like painting a car doing 60 miles an hour,'" said Maj. Gen. Dennis Hejlik, commander of the Marine Special Operations Command.
SOCOM's commander said he plans to avoid the growing pains other military units face by expanding slowly.
"We're going to grow a pretty good capacity here in special operations command," Gen. Bryan "Doug" Brown told ABC News. "What I want to say straight up is that we're not changing any standards. If anything, the standards are tougher than they've ever been in the history of Special Operations Command."
SOCOM, as the command is known in military parlance, is already also adding new equipment, including an experimental reconnaissance craft called the Sea Lion II, a boat designed to be nearly invisible that looks like a stealth bomber on the water.
"It's a land campaign in Afghanistan and Iraq. But what all of us -- the leaders of the Navy and the nation -- have got to keep in mind is that the future will come -- and that the conflict may very well be maritime in nature," said Rear Admiral Joseph Maguire, commander of Naval Special Warfare Command.
The Sea Lion II is just one of a string of high-tech weapons developed for SOCOM while the Bush administration dramatically expands its role.
The Air Force is fielding a four-pound Raven unmanned surveillance drone, which can be folded up to fit in a backpack.
"We've come a long way," Lt. Gen. Michael Wooley, commander of the Air Force Special Operations Command, told ABC News. "This is not your daddy's Special Operations Command."
SOCOM is also now using the first of 50 tilt-rotor V-22 Osprey planes, which are one part plane, one part helicopter and one part stomach-churning roller coaster.
Conventional Marine forces will be the first to send the Osprey into combat in Iraq. It comes with a controversial safety record. Thirty have been killed in four Osprey crashes to date.
Special ops includes the elite Green Berets, Navy Seals and elite Air Force and Marine units.
Navy Seal Lt. Ryan Peters returned from training Iraqi SWAT teams in volatile Anbar province two weeks ago.
"We almost tripled their capability," Peters said.
Much of the command's work falls under the category of "black ops" -- like the team that killed al Qaeda in Iraq's leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The Pentagon still refuses to acknowledge the existence of the super-elite Delta Force, though it's been featured in films like "Black Hawk Down."
Navy Seal Christopher Lumberg declined to say how he's used a six-man submarine designed to be launched from a nuclear sub to any point in the seas and return without ever surfacing.
Asked if he had deployed in the vessel, he said, "Yes."
Asked if he could say where, he added with a smile, "I cannot."