Academic journal article Military Review

Special Operation Forces: Integrating SOF into Joint Warfighting

Academic journal article Military Review

Special Operation Forces: Integrating SOF into Joint Warfighting

Article excerpt

With Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, special operations forces emerged from the shadows. Warfighting doctrine and methods that integrate and coordinate the conventional with the unconventional are more necessary now than ever. From experiences in Afghanistan, authors Jones and Rehorn offer advice on how to better integrate special operations forces into conventional operations. Findley, Green, and Bragana suggest how to better coordinate fires, particularly deep fires in support of both unconventional and conventional operations.

OPERATION Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan thrust special operations forces (SOF) into the spotlight of the U.S. military and the world. Despite this attention, these quiet professionals are only part of the U.S. Armed Forces team. They are members of a joint team made up of all military forces, along with the other elements of national power, and many multinational partners.

This article addresses many of the areas that SOF is pursuing to gain greater integration within this team. We have limited the scope of the article in several key areas. To stay focused on integration, we do not discuss the capabilities and limitations of SOF. We also do not discuss two key elements of SOF-psychological operations forces and civil affairs forces. Finally, we do not go into detail on integration within the interagency and multinational arena.

The article addresses theater SOF, the role of a theater special operations command (SOC), employment options for employment of a joint special operations task force (JSOTF), and how full integration of SOF within a joint force enhances operations.

Theater SOF and the Role of SOC

The regional combatant commander (RCC) has combatant command of assigned SOF in the theater, with operational control (OPCON) exercised for the most part by the theater SOC. The theater service component commands exercise administrative control (ADCON) of their respective service SOF for common service type activities.

The SOC commander is normally the supporting commander and provides SOF for employment by the RCCs. He might also be designated a supported commander in certain situations by the secretary of defense to conduct or coordinate operations.

Each of the RCCs has a theater SOC. The SOC commander is normally an Army or Air Force brigadier general or a Navy rear admiral. These SOC commanders have three major roles similar to those of the theater-service component commanders. The SOC commanders have OPCON of attached and assigned SOF within the area of responsibility (AOR), advise the RCC and staff on employment of SOF, and when warranted, form operational headquarters to conduct special operations.

In every theater, SOF, like other elements of the Armed Forces, conduct operations throughout the RCC's AOR. Because of their training, equipping, and experience, these forces often provide the RCC with a presence as global scouts throughout the AOR. They are, however, high-demand and low-density forces that are often given politically sensitive or operationally complex high-risk missions. These missions demand special operations expertise in planning and execution. This requires the SOC to maintain a theater-strategic perspective focused on condition setting, while maintaining agility to respond to emergent requirements. This necessitates SOF to operate under centralized planning and control to maintain strategic and operational agility and to ensure mission success.

Theater SOF Employment Options

Excluding the psychological operations and civil affairs units, SOF are commonly employed in three ways. The RCC might continue to command SOF through the theater SOC. The SOC can either directly control SOF in a joint special operations functional component command role or form a subordinate JTF (that is, a JSOTF) to control SOF for a specific period or in a specific operational area. The SOC might be designated as either a supported or supporting commander vis-a-vis an RCC-designated functional component or JTF to conduct operations in the AOR. …

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