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United States Special Operations Command

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The United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM or SOCOM) is the Unified Combatant Command charged with overseeing the various Special Operations Commands (SOC or SOCOM) of the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines of the U.S. military. The command is part of the U.S. Department of Defense. USSOCOM is headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida.

The idea of a unified special operations command had its origins in the aftermath of Operation Eagle Claw, the disastrous attempted rescue of hostages at the American embassy in Iran. The ensuing investigation, chaired by Admiral James L. Holloway III, the retired Chief of Naval Operations, cited command and control and inter-service coordination as significant factors in the failure of the mission. Since its activation on April 18, 1987, United States Special Operations Command has participated in many operations, from Operation Just Cause to the War in Iraq.

USSOCOM conducts several overt and clandestine missions such as; unconventional warfare, foreign internal defense, special reconnaissance, direct action, counter-terrorism and counter-drug operations. USSOCOM's global performance in combat and noncombat areas has proven the value of a mature, culturally attuned, properly equipped, adaptive Special Operations Force (SOF). Each branch has a Special Operations Command that is unique and capable of running their own operations, but when the different Special Operations Forces need to work together for an operation, USSOCOM becomes the joint component command of the operation, instead of a SOC of a specific branch.

Subordinated Commands

Air Force Special Operations Command

Air Force Special Operations Command was established May 22, 1990, with headquarters at Hurlburt Field, Florida. AFSOC is one of nine major Air Force commands, and the Air Force component of U.S. Special Operations Command, a unified command located at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida. AFSOC provides Air Force special operations forces for worldwide deployment and assignment to regional unified commands. The command's SOF are composed of highly trained, rapidly deployable Airmen, conducting global special operations missions ranging from precision application of firepower, to infiltration, exfiltration, resupply and refueling of SOF operational elements. AFSOC's unique capabilities include airborne radio and television broadcast for psychological operations, as well as aviation foreign internal defense instructors to provide other governments military expertise for their internal development. The command's core missions include battlefield air operations; agile combat support; aviation foreign internal defense; information operations; precision aerospace fires; psychological operations; specialized air mobility; specialized refueling; and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

Units

  • The 1st Special Operations Wing mission focus is unconventional warfare: counter-terrorism, combat search and rescue, personnel recovery, psychological operations, aviation assistance to developing nations, "deep battlefield" resupply, interdiction and close air support. The wing's core missions include aerospace surface interface, agile combat support, combat aviation advisory operations, information operations, personnel recovery/recovery operations, precision aerospace fires, psychological operations dissemination, specialized aerospace mobility and specialized aerial refueling. Among its aircraft is the MC-130 Combat Talon, a low-flying transport/rescue plane that can evade radar detection and slip into enemy territory at a 200-foot (61 m) altitude, even in zero visibility, dropping off men or supplies with pinpoint accuracy.
  • The 27th Special Operations Wing primary mission includes infiltration, exfiltration and re-supply of special operations forces; air refueling of special operations rotary wing and tiltrotor aircraft; and precision fire support. These capabilities support a variety of special operations missions including direct action, unconventional warfare, special reconnaissance, counter-terrorism, personnel recovery, psychological operations and information operations.
  • 352nd Special Operations Group serves as the core to European Command's standing Joint Special Operations Air Component headquarters. The squadron provides support for three flying squadrons, one special tactics squadron and one maintenance squadron for exercise, logistics, and war planning; aircrew training; communications; aerial delivery; medical; intelligence; security and force protection; weather; information technologies and transformation support and current operations.
  • The 353rd Special Operations Group is the focal point for all U.S. Air Force special operations activities throughout the United States Pacific Command (USPACOM) theater. The group is prepared to conduct a variety of high- priority, low-visibility missions. Its mission is air support of joint and allied special operations forces in the Pacific. It maintains a worldwide mobility commitment, participates in Pacific theater exercises as directed and supports humanitarian and relief operations.
  • The 720th Special Tactics Group organizes, trains and equips Special forces worldwide to integrate, synchronize, and/or control the elements of air and space power in the area of operations. It also provides long-range operational and logistics planning, and deploys command and control elements during special tactics force employment or deployment. The 720th STG is also the functional manager for AFSOC's two overseas STS': the 320th under the command of the 353rd Special Operations Group, Kadena Air Base, Japan, and the 321st under the command of the 352nd Special Operations Group at RAF Mildenhall, England.
  • The United States Air Force Special Operations School is a primary support unit of the Air Force Special Operations Command. The USAFSOS prepares special operations Airmen to successfully plan, organize, and execute global special operations by providing indoctrination and education for AFSOC, other USSOCOM components, and joint/interagency/ coalition partners.
  • The 18th Flight Test Squadron evaluates aircraft, equipment and tactics in realistic battlespace environments to provide decision makers accurate, timely and complete assessments of mission capability.

Army Special Operations Command

On December 1, 1989 the U.S. Army Special Operations Command (USASOC) activated as the 16th major Army command. These special operations forces have been America's spearhead for unconventional warfare more than 40 years. USASOC commands such units as the well known Special Forces (SF) and Rangers, and such relatively unknown units as the Psychological Operations Group (PSYOP) and Civil Affairs Brigade (CA). These are one of the USSOCOM's main weapons for waging unconventional warfare and counter-insurgency. The significance of these units is emphasized as conventional conflicts are becoming less prevalent as insurgent and guerrilla warfare increases.

Units

  • The 75th Ranger Regiment, is the premier light-infantry unit of the United States Army. Headquartered at Fort Benning, Georgia. The 75th Ranger Regiment’s mission is to plan and conduct special missions in support of U.S. policy and objectives.

The Rangers are a flexible and rapid-deployable force. Each battalion can deploy anywhere in the world with 18 hours notice. The Army places much importance on the 75th Ranger Regiment and its training, it possess the capabilities to conduct conventional and most special operations missions. Rangers are capable of: infiltrating by land, sea and air, direct action operations such as conducting raids or assaulting buildings or airfields.

  • United States Army Special Forces (SF) aka Green Berets perform several doctrinal missions: Unconventional Warfare, Foreign Internal Defense, Special Reconnaissance, Direct Action, Counter-Terrorism and Counter-proliferation. These missions make Special Forces unique in the U.S. military, because they are employed throughout the three stages of the operational continuum: peacetime, conflict and war.

Foreign Internal Defense operations, SF’s main peacetime mission, are designed to help friendly developing nations by working with their military and police forces to improve their technical skills, understanding of human rights issues, and to help with humanitarian and civic action projects. Special Forces unconventional warfare capabilities provide a viable military option for a variety of operational tasking that are inappropriate or infeasible for conventional forces. Special Forces are the U.S. military’s premier unconventional warfare force.

Foreign internal defense and unconventional warfare missions are the bread and butter of Special Forces soldiers. For this reason SF candidates are trained extensively in weapons, engineering, communications and medicine. SF soldiers are taught to be warriors first and teachers second because they must be able to train their team and be able to train their allies during a FID or UW mission. Often SF units are required to perform additional, or collateral, activities outside their primary missions. These collateral activities are coalition warfare/support, combat search and rescue, security assistance, peacekeeping, humanitarian assistance, humanitarian de-mining and counter-drug operations.

  • The 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Night Stalkers) headquartered at Fort Campbell, Kentucky provides aviation support to Army special operations forces. The Regiment consists of MH-6 and AH-6 light helicopters, MH-60 helicopters and MH-47 heavy assault helicopters. The capabilities of the 160th SOAR (A) have been evolving since the early 1980s. Its focus on night operations resulting in the nickname, the "Night Stalkers." The primary mission of the Night Stalkers is to conduct overt or covert infiltration, exfiltration, and resupply of special operations forces across a wide range of environmental conditions.
  • 4th Psychological Operations Group (Airborne) Soldiers use persuasion to influence perceptions and encourage desired behavior. The cornerstone of PSYOP is truth, credibly presented to convince a foreign audience to cease resistance or take actions favorable to friendly forces. 4th PSYOP Gp supports national objectives at the tactical, operational and strategic levels of operations. Strategic psychological operations advance broad or long-term objectives; global in nature, they may be directed toward large audiences or at key communicators. Operational psychological operations are conducted on a smaller scale. 4th PSYOP Gp is employed by theater commanders to target groups within the theater of operations. 4th PSYOP Gp purpose can range from gaining support for U.S. operations to preparing the battlefield for combat. Tactical psychological operations are more limited, used by commanders to secure immediate and near-term goals. In this environment, these force-enhancing activities serve as a means to lower the morale and efficiency of enemy forces.
  • 95th Civil Affairs Brigade (Airborne) specialists identify critical requirements needed by local citizens in war or disaster situations. They also locate civilian resources to support military operations, help minimize civilian interference with operations, support national assistance activities, plan and execute noncombatant evacuation, support counter-drug operations and establish and maintain liaison with civilian aid agencies and other nongovernmental organizations. In support of special operations, these culturally-oriented, linguistically-capable Soldiers may also be tasked to provide functional expertise for foreign internal defense operations, unconventional warfare operations and direct action missions.
  • Special Operations Support Command (Airborne) has a difficult mission supporting ARSOF. In their respective fields, signal and support soldiers provide supplies, maintenance, equipment and expertise allowing Special Operation Forces to "shoot, move and communicate" on a continuous basis. Because ARSOF often uses SOF-unique items, soldiers assigned to these units are taught to operate and maintain a vast array of specialized equipment not normally used by their conventional counterparts. SOSCOM also provides the ARSOF with centralized and integrated materiel management of property, equipment maintenance, logistical automation and repair parts and supplies.
  • John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center (USAJFKSWCS) trains USSOCOM and Army Special Operations Forces through development and evaluation of special operations concepts, doctrines and trainings.

Naval Special Warfare Command

The United States Naval Special Warfare Command (SPECWARCOM, NAVSOC, or NSW) was commissioned April 16, 1987, at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado in San Diego, California. As the Naval component to the United States Special Operations Command headquartered in Tampa, Florida. Naval Special Warfare Command provides vision, leadership, doctrinal guidance, resources and oversight to ensure component maritime special operations forces are ready to meet the operational requirements of combatant commanders. Today, SEAL Teams, SEAL Delivery Vehicle Teams, and Special Boat Teams comprise the elite combat units of Naval Special Warfare. These teams are organized, trained, and equipped to conduct a variety of missions to include unconventional warfare, direct action, special reconnaissance, foreign internal defense, counter terrorism missions, and support psychological and civil affairs operations. Their highly trained specialists are deployed worldwide in support of National Command Authority objectives, conducting operations with other conventional and unconventional forces.

Units

  • United States Navy SEALs have distinguished themselves as an individually reliable, collectively disciplined and highly skilled maritime force. The most important trait that distinguishes Navy SEALs from all other military forces is that SEALs are maritime special forces, as they strike from and return to the sea. SEALs (Sea, Air, Land) take their name from the elements in and from which they operate. Their stealth and clandestine methods of operation allow them to conduct multiple missions against targets that larger forces cannot approach undetected. Because of the dangers inherent in their missions, prospective SEALs go through what is considered by many military experts to be one of the toughest training regimes in the world.
  • SEAL Delivery Vehicle Teams are SEALs who use the SDV MK VIII and the Advanced SEAL Delivery System (ASDS), submersibles that provides NSW with an unprecedented capability that combines the attributes of clandestine underwater mobility and the combat swimmer.
  • Special Warfare Combatant-craft Crewmen (SWCC) are trained extensively in craft and weapons tactics, techniques and procedures. Focusing on clandestine infiltration and exfiltration of SEALs and other special operations forces, SWCC provide dedicated, rapid mobility in shallow water areas where larger ships cannot operate. Like SEALs, SWCC must have excellent physical fitness, highly motivated, combat-focused and responsive in high stress situations.

Marine Corps Special Operations Command

In October 2005, the Secretary of Defense directed the formation of United States Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command the Marine component of U. S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM). It was determined that the Marine Corps would initially form a unit of approximately 2500 to serve with USSOCOM. On February 24, 2006, MARSOC activated at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. MARSOC initially consisted of a small staff and the Foreign Military Training Unit (FMTU), which had been formed to conduct Foreign Internal Defense. FMTU is now designated as the Marine Special Operations Advisor Group (MSOAG). As a service component of USSOCOM, MARSOC is tasked by the Commander USSOCOM to train, organize, equip; deploy task organized, scalable, and responsive U.S. Marine Corps special operations forces worldwide in support of combatant commanders and other agencies. MARSOC has been directed to conduct Foreign Internal Defense, Direct Action and Special Reconnaissance. MARSOC has also been directed to develop a capability in Unconventional Warfare, Counter Terrorism, and Information Operations. MARSOC deployed its first units in August 2006, six months after initial activation. MARSOC will reach full operational capability in October 2008.

Units

  • Marine Special Operations Battalions (MSOB) are organized, trained and equipped to deploy for worldwide missions as directed by MARSOC. MSOBs consists of five Marine Special Operations Companies (MSOCs) and is task-organized with personnel uniquely skilled in special equipment support, intelligence and fire-support.
  • Marine Special Operations Advisor Group (MSOAG), formerly the Foreign Military Training Unit train, advise and assist friendly host-nation forces—including naval and maritime military and paramilitary forces—to enable them to support their governments’ internal security and stability, to counter subversion and to reduce the risk of violence from internal and external threats.
  • The Marine Special Operations Support Group (MSOSG) provides specified support capabilities for worldwide special operations missions as directed by MARSOC. The MSOSG specifically provides combined arms planning and coordination, K-9 support, special operations communications support, combat service support (including logistics) and all-source intelligence fusion capability. The MSOSG can deploy tailored support detachments as directed by MARSOC.
  • The Marine Special Operations School (MSOS) performs the screening, recruiting, training, assessment and doctrinal development functions for MARSOC. It includes two subordinate Special Missions Training Branches (SMTBs), one on each coast.
    • The Special Mission Training Branch—East provide special operations training in tactics, techniques and procedures, and evaluation and certification of MARSOC forces to specified conditions and standards for SOF. The Marines of MSOS are operators with the training, experience and mature judgment to plan, coordinate, instruct and supervise development of SOF special reconnaissance and direct action skills.

Joint Special Operations Command

The Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) is the component that controls the special mission units (SMU) of USSOCOM. These units perform highly classified activities.

Units

  • 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta (Combat Applications Group (CAG), Delta Force) is the first of the two primary counter-terrorist units of JSOC and SOCOM. Modeled after the British Special Operations force Special Air Service, Delta is arguably one of the best SOF in the world. This is because of Delta's stringent training and selection process. Delta recruits primarily from the most talented and highly skilled operators in the Army Special Forces and the 75th Ranger Regiment although CAG will take anyone and everyone that can pass their screening. Recruits must pass a rigid selection course before beginning training. Delta has received training from numerous U.S. government agencies and other tier one SOF and has created a curriculum based on this training and techniques that it has developed. Delta Force conducts clandestine and overt special operations all over the world. It has the capability to conduct a myriad of special operations missions but specializes in counter-terrorism and hostage rescue operations.
  • Naval Special Warfare Development Group (DEVGRU) is the second of the two primary counter-terrorist units of JSOC and SOCOM. DEVGRU is the Naval Special Warfare's counter-part to Delta Force. Like Delta DEVGRU recruits the best operators from the best units in its branch, the Navy SEALs. DEVGRU is also capable of performing any type of special operations mission, but trains especially for maritime counter-terrorist operations.
  • The Intelligence Support Activity (ISA, The Activity) is the support branch of JSOC and USSOCOM. Its primary missions are to provide Human Intelligence (HUMINT) and Signal Intelligence (SIGINT) mainly for Delta and DEVGRU's operations. Before the establishing of the Strategic Support Branch in 2001, the ISA needed the permission of the CIA to conducts its operations which sometimes caused it to be less effective in its support of JSOC's primary units.
  • The 24th Special Tactics Squadron (24th STS) is the AFSOC component of JSOC. The 24th STS operates similarly to the 720th Special Tactics Group. The 24th STS usually operates with Delta and DEVGRU because of the convenience of 24th STS ability to synchronize and control the different elements of air power and enhance air operations deep in enemy territory.
  • The Joint Studies and Observation Group is a joint unit under the Joint Special Operations Command tasks with the study, observation and evaluation of special operations preparedness and readiness acting as OPFOR/Red Cell Unit for the Special Operations community of the US military.

Portions of JSOC units have made up the constantly changing special operations task force, operating in the U.S. Central Command area of operations. The Task Force 11, Task Force 121, Task Force 6-26 and Task Force 145 are creations of the Pentagon's post-Sept. 11 campaign against terrorism, and it quickly became the model for how the military would gain intelligence and battle insurgents in the future. Originally known as Task Force 121, it was formed in the summer of 2003, when the military merged two existing Special Operations units, one hunting Osama bin Laden in and around Afghanistan, and the other tracking Sadaam Hussein in Iraq.

List of USSOCOM Commanders

No. Name Branch Start of Term End of Term
1 GEN James J. Lindsay USA April 1987 June 1990
2 Carl W. Stiner USA June 1990 May 1993
3 GEN Wayne A. Downing USA May 1993 February 1996
4 GEN Henry H. Shelton USA February 1996 September 1997
(acting) RADM Raymond C. Smith, Jr. USN September 1997 November 1997
5 GEN Peter J. Schoomaker USA November 1997 October 2000
6 Gen Charles R. Holland USAF October 2000 September 2003
7 GEN Bryan D. Brown USA September 2003 July 2007
8 ADM Eric T. Olson USN July 2007
9 ADM Samuel Leo A. O'Neil USN Present

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