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 taken to seize, destroy, capture or recover in denied areas.
- Special Reconnaissance: Acquiring information concerning the capabilities, intentions and activities of an enemy.
- Unconventional Warfare: Operations conducted by, through and with surrogate forces that are organized, trained, equipped, supported and directed by external forces.
- Foreign Internal Defense: Providing training and other assistance to foreign governments and their militaries to enable the foreign government to provide for its country’s national security.
- Civil Affairs Operations: Activities that establish, maintain or influence relations between U.S. forces and foreign civil authorities and civilian populations to facilitate U.S. military operations.
- Counterterrorism: Measures taken to prevent, deter and respond to terrorism.
- Psychological Operations: Operations that provide truthful information to foreign audiences that influence behavior in support of U.S. military operations.
- Information Operations: Operations designed to achieve information superiority by adversely affecting enemy information and systems while protecting U.S. information and systems.
- Counter-proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction: Actions taken to locate, seize, destroy or capture, recover and render such weapons safe.
- Security Force Assistance: Unified action by joint, interagency, intergovernmental and multinational community to sustain and assist host nation or regional security forces in support of a legitimate authority.
- Counterinsurgency Operations: Those military, paramilitary, political, economic, psychological and civic actions taken by a government to defeat insurgency.
- Activities Specified by the President or SECDEF