The Department of Defense (DoD) activated U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) April 16, 1987, at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla. DoD created the new unified command in response to congressional action in the Goldwater-Nichols Defense Reorganization Act of 1986 and the Nunn-Cohen Amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act of 1987. Congress mandated a new four-star command be activated to prepare Special Operations Forces (SOF) to carry out assigned missions and, if directed by the president or secretary of defense (SECDEF), to plan for and conduct special operations.


To enable USSOCOM to carry out its mission, Congress gave the new command specific authorities and responsibilities:

Title 10 Authorities and Responsibilities

  • Develop special operations strategy, doctrine and tactics
  • Prepare and submit budget proposals for SOF
  • Exercise authority, direction and control over special operations expenditures
  • Train assigned forces
  • Conduct specialized courses of instruction
  • Validate requirements
  • Establish requirement priorities
  • Ensure interoperability of equipment and forces
  • Formulate and submit intelligence support requirements
  • Monitor Special Operations officers’ promotions, assignments, retention, training and professional military education
  • Ensure Special Operations Forces’ combat readiness
  • Monitor Special Operations Forces’ preparedness to carry out assigned missions
  • Develop and acquire special operations-peculiar equipment, materiel, supplies and services


In addition to the service-like authorities of developing training and monitoring readiness, some of the authorities Congress gave USSOCOM are unique responsibilities for a unified command. USSOCOM is not dependent on the Army, Navy, Marine Corps or Air Force for its budget or to develop and buy new equipment, supplies or services for the command. USSOCOM has its own budgetary authorities and responsibilities through a specific Major Force Program (MFP-11) in DOD’s budget. Additionally, USSOCOM has its own acquisition authorities, so it can develop and buy special operations-peculiar equipment, supplies or services.


Before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, USSOCOM’s primary focus was on its supporting command mission of organizing, training and equipping SOF and providing those forces to support the geographic combatant commanders and U.S. ambassadors and their country teams. The president further expanded USSOCOM’s responsibilities in the 2004 Unified Command Plan. The Unified Command Plan assigned USSOCOM responsibility for synchronizing Department of Defense plans against global terrorist networks and, as directed, conducting global operations. USSOCOM receives, reviews, coordinates and prioritizes all DoD plans that support the global campaign against terror and then makes recommendations to the Joint Staff regarding force and resource allocations to meet global requirements.


USSOCOM has approximately 57,000 active duty, Reserve and National Guard Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and DoD civilians assigned to the headquarters, its four components and one sub-unified command. USSOCOM’s components are U.S. Army Special Operations Command (USASOC), Naval Special Warfare Command (NAVSPECWARCOM), Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) and Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC). The Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) is a USSOCOM sub-unified command.


SOF Core Activities

  • Direct Action: Short-duration strikes and other small-scale offensive actions employing specialized military capabilities to  seize, destroy, capture, exploit, recover, or damage designated targets.
  • Special Reconnaissance: Actions conducted in sensitive environments to collect or verify information of strategic or operational significance.
  • Unconventional Warfare: Actions to enable a resistance movement or insurgency to coerce, disrupt, or overthrow a government or occupying power.
  • Foreign Internal Defense: Activities that support an HN's internal defense and development (IDAD) strategy and program designed to protect against subversion, lawlessness, insurgency, terrorism, and other threats to their internal security, and stability, and legitimacy.
  • Civil Affairs Operations: CAO enhance the relationship between military forces and civilian authorities in localities where military forces are present.
  • Counterterrorism: Actions taken directly against terrorist networks and indirectly to influence and render global and regional environments inhospitable to terrorist networks.
  • Military Information Support Operations. MISO are planned to convey selected information and indicators to foreign audiences to influence their emotions, motives, objective reasoning, and ultimately the behavior of foreign governments, organizations, groups, and individuals in a manner favorable to the originator's objectives.
  • Counter-proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction: Activities to support USG efforts to curtail the conceptualization, development, possession, proliferation, use, and effects of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), related expertise, materials, technologies, and means of delivery by state and non-state actors.
  • Security Force Assistance: Activities  based on organizing, training, equipping, rebuilding, and advising various components of Foreign Security Forces.
  • Counterinsurgency: The blend of civilian and military efforts designed to end insurgent violence and facilitate a return to peaceful political processes.
  • Hostage Rescue and Recovery.  Offensive measures taken to prevent, deter, preempt, and respond to terrorist threats and incidents, including recapture of U.S. facilities, installations, and sensitive material in overseas areas.

  • Foreign Humanitarian Assistance. The range of DOD humanitarian activities conducted outside the US and its territories to relieve or reduce human suffering, disease, hunger, or privation.


US Army Special Operations Command Naval Special Warfare Command Air Force Special Operations Command Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command Joint Special Operations University  Joint Special Operations Command
Headquarters, United States Special Operations Command
7701 Tampa Point Boulevard
MacDill Air Force Base, Florida 33621

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