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U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF): Background and Issues for Congress

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U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF): Background and Issues for Congress Andrew Feickert Specialist in Military Ground Forces June 22August 3, 2009 Congressional Research Service 7-5700 www.crs.gov RS21048 CRS Report for Congress Prepared for Members and Committees of Congress U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF): Background and Issues for Congress Summary Special Operations Forces (SOF) play a significant role in U.S. military operations and the Administration has given U.S. SOF greater responsibility for planning and conducting worldwide counterterrorism operations. U.S. SOF’s growing need for enabling forces that are largely drawn from conventional forces is a potential policy issue for congressional consideration. Congressional Research Service U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF): Background and Issues for Congress Contents Background ................................................................................................................................1 Overview ..............................................................................................................................1 Command Structures and Components ..................................................................................1 Expanded USSOCOM Responsibilities .................................................................................1 Army Special Operations Forces ...........................................................................................2 Air Force Special Operations Forces .....................................................................................3 AFSOC Initiatives.................................................................................................................3 No C-27s for AFSOC? ....................................................................................................3 Naval Special Operations Forces ...........................................................................................4 Marine Special Operations Command (MARSOC) ...............................................................4 Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC)...........................................................................4 Current Issues .............................................................................................................................5 FY2010 USSOCOM Budget Request ....................................................................................5 SOF Competition for Support Forces ....................................................................................6 Issues for Congress .....................................................................................................................6 SOF and Adequacy of Support Forces ...................................................................................6 Contacts Author Contact Information ........................................................................................................7 Congressional Research Service U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF): Background and Issues for Congress Background Overview Special Operations Forces (SOF) are small, elite military units with special training and equipment that can infiltrate into hostile territory through land, sea, or air to conduct a variety of operations, many of them classified. SOF personnel undergo rigorous selection and lengthy specialized training. The U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) oversees the training, doctrine, and equipping of all U.S. SOF units. Command Structures and Components In 1986 Congress, concerned about the status of SOF within overall U.S. defense planning, passed measures (P.L. 99-661) to strengthen its position. These actions included the establishment of USSOCOM as a new unified command. USSOCOM is headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, FL. The Commander of USSOCOM is a four-star officer who may be from any service. Commander, USSOCOM reports directly to the Secretary of Defense, although an Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict and Interdependent Capabilities (ASD/SOLIC&IC) provides immediate civilian oversight over many USSOCOM activities. USSOCOM has about 54,000 Active Duty, National Guard and Reserve personnel from all four Services and Department of Defense (DOD) civilians assigned to its headquarters, its four components, and one sub-unified command.1 USSOCOM’s components are the U.S. Army Special Operations Command (USASOC); the Naval Special Warfare Command (NAVSPECWARCOM); the Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC); and the Marine Corps Special Operations Command (MARSOC). The Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) is a USSOCOM sub-unified command. Expanded USSOCOM Responsibilities In addition to its Title 10 authorities and responsibilities, USSOCOM has been given additional responsibilities. In the 2004 Unified Command Plan, USSOCOM was given the responsibility for synchronizing DOD plans against global terrorist networks and, as directed, conducting global operations.2 In this regard, 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.”3 In October 1 Information in this section is from “Fact Book: United States Special Operations Command,” USSOCOM Public Affairs, February 2009, p. 7. DOD defines a sub-unified command as a command established by commanders of unified commands, when so authorized through the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to conduct operations on a continuing basis in accordance with the criteria set forth for unified commands. A subordinate unified command may be established on an area or functional basis. Commanders of subordinate unified commands have functions and responsibilities similar to those of the commanders of unified commands and exercise operational control of assigned commands and forces within the assigned joint operations area. 2 “Fact Book: United States Special Operations Command,” USSOCOM Public Affairs, February 2009, p. 6. 3 Ibid. Congressional Research Service 1 U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF): Background and Issues for Congress 2008, USSOCOM was designated as the DOD proponent for Security Force Assistance (SFA). 4 In this role, USSOCOM will perform a synchronizing function in global training and assistance planning similar to the previously described role of planning against terrorist networks. In addition, USSOCOM is now DOD’s lead for countering threat financing, working with the U.S. Treasury and Justice Departments on means to identify and disrupt terrorist financing efforts. Army Special Operations Forces U.S. Army SOF (ARSOF) includes approximately 30,000 soldiers from the Active Army, National Guard, and Army Reserve who are organized into Special Forces, Ranger, and special operations aviation units, along with civil affairs units, psychological operations units, and special operations support units. ARSOF Headquarters and other resources, such as the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School, are located at Fort Bragg, NC. Five active Special Forces (SF) Groups (Airborne), consisting of about 1,400 soldiers each, are stationed at Fort Bragg and at Fort Lewis, WA, Fort Campbell, KY, and Fort Carson, CO. The 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) currently stationed at Ft. Bragg will be moving to Eglin Air Force Base, FL by September 2011 as mandated by the 2005 Base Closure and Realignment Act5. Special Forces soldiers—also known as the Green Berets—are trained in various skills, including foreign languages, that allow teams to operate independently throughout the world. In December 2005, a Sustainment Brigade (Special Operations) (Airborne) was activated at Ft. Bragg, NC, to provide combat service support and medical support to Army special operations forces.6 In FY2008, the Army began to increase the total number of Army Special Forces battalions from 15 to 20, with one battalion being allocated to each active Special Forces Group. In August 2008, the Army stood up the first of these new battalions—the 4th Battalion, 5th Special Forces Groups (Airborne)—at Fort Campbell, KY.7 Two Army National Guard SF groups are headquartered in Utah and Alabama. An elite airborne light infantry unit specializing in direct action operations8, the 75th Ranger Regiment, is headquartered at Fort Benning, GA, and consists of three battalions. Army special operations aviation units, including the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) headquartered at Fort Campbell, KY, feature pilots trained to fly the most sophisticated Army rotary-wing aircraft in the harshest environments, day or night, and in adverse weather. Some of the most frequently deployed SOF assets are civil affairs (CA) units, which provide experts in every area of civil government to help administer civilian affairs in operational theaters. The 95th Civil Affairs Brigade (Airborne) is the only active CA unit, and plans call for 4 Information in this section is from testimony given by Admiral Eric T. Olson, Commander, U.S. SOCOM, to the House Terrorism, Unconventional Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee on the Fiscal Year 2010 National Defense Authorization Budget Request for the U.S. Special Operations Command, June 4, 2009. 5 Henry Cuningham, “Delays in 7th Group Move Could be Costly,” Fayetteville (NC) Observer, November 7, 2008. 6 “Fact Book: United States Special Operations Command,” USSOCOM Public Affairs, February 2009, p. 10. 7 Sean D. Naylor, “Special Forces Expands,” Army Times, August 11, 2008. 8 Direct action operations are short-duration strikes and other small-scale offensive actions conducted as a special operation in hostile, denied, or politically sensitive environments and which employ specialized military capabilities to seize, destroy, capture, exploit, recover, or damage designated targets. Direct action differs from conventional offensive actions in the level of physical and political risk, operational techniques, and the degree of discriminate and precise use of force to achieve specific objectives. Congressional Research Service 2 U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF): Background and Issues for Congress the brigade to expand from one to four battalions by 2009.9 All other CA units reside in the Reserves and are affiliated with conventional Army units. Psychological operations units disseminate information to large foreign audiences through mass media. The active duty 4th Psychological Operations (PSYOPS) Group (Airborne) is stationed at Fort Bragg, and two Army Reserve PSYOPS groups work with conventional Army units. Air Force Special Operations Forces The Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) includes about 13,000 active and reserve personnel. AFSOC is headquartered at Hurlburt Field, FL, along with the 720th Special Tactics Group, the 1st Special Operations Wing (SOW) and the U.S. Air Force Special Operations School and Training Center. 10 The 27th SOW is located at Cannon Air Force Base (AFB), NM. The 352nd Special Operations Group is at RAF Mildenhall, England, and the 353rd Special Operations Group, is at Kadena Air Base, Japan. Reserve AFSOC components include the 193rd SOW, Air National Guard, stationed at Harrisburg, PA and the 919th Special Operations Wing, Air Force Reserve, stationed at Duke Field, FL. AFSOC’s three active-duty flying units are composed of more than 100 fixed and rotary-wing aircraft. AFSOC Initiatives AFSOC officials expect to have the first CV-22 tilt rotor squadron operational in 2009. 11 This first AFSOC Osprey squadron will have six aircraft and nine crews. The Osprey will eventually replace AFSOC’s MH-53 Pave Low helicopters, which were officially retired in 2008. Reportedly, the Air Force is requesting funding to accelerate the purchase of CV-22s to eight aircraft per year starting in FY2010, which will enable AFSOC to have their full complement of 50 CV-22s by 2015.12 AFSOC is also accelerating efforts to replace the aging AC-130U gunship fleet with a lighter version—perhaps a modified version of the C-27B Spartan Joint Cargo Aircraft (JCA).13 AFSOC is said to be working to increase the number of MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) it uses to support special operations missions by about two-thirds.14 No C-27s for AFSOC?15 AFSOC had been slated to receive 16 C-27 Spartans that were to be converted into a lighter version of the AC-130U gunship, but DOD removed Army funding for 40 C-27s from its FY2010 budget. AFSOC had planned on getting two of the Army’s C-27s in FY2011 and pay the Army 9 Kevin Maurer, “Newly Formed 95th Civil Affairs Brigade Activates,” Fayetteville Times, August 18, 2006. Information in this section is taken from “Fact Book: United States Special Operations Command,” USSOCOM Public Affairs, February 2009, p. 27. 11 Nathan Hodge, “AFSOC to Stand Up First Osprey Unit in 2009,” Jane’s Defence Weekly, May 28, 2008, p. 10. 10 12 Marina Malenic, “Bell-Boeing Sees V-22 Program Growth, Potential Line Expansion,” Defense Daily, March 16, 2009. 13 John Reed, “AFSOC Quickly Working to Field Next-Generation Light Gunship,” InsideDefense.com, June 27, 2008. 14 John Reed, “AFSOC Working to Increase Drone Fleet by Two-Thirds in POM-10 Build,” InsideDefense.com, July 18, 2008. 15 Sam LaGrone, “AFSOC Plan for C-27s Takes Nosedive,” Air Force Times, May 4, 2009. Congressional Research Service 3 U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF): Background and Issues for Congress back in FY2015. While this arrangement between AFSOC and the Army has been described as being “outside the normal budgeting process” it is viewed by some as indicative of how badly AFSOC wants the C-27 to help replace capabilities resident in its current aging AC-130U fleet. The House Armed Services Committee (HASC) in its June 17, 2009, summary of H.R. 2647, the FY2010 National Defense Authorization Act, has expressed concern that the JCA program, that originally provide for 78 C-27Js for the Army and Air Force, has been reduced by DOD to only 38 aircraft for the Air Force. The HASC has asked the Army and Air Force for a report to identify new C-27J force structure and this report might be expected to include AFSOC requirements for the C-27J. Naval Special Operations Forces16 The Naval Special Warfare Command (NSWC) is located in Coronado, CA. NSWC is organized around 10 SEAL Teams, two SEAL Delivery Vehicle (SDV) Teams, and three Special Boat Teams. SEAL Teams consist of six SEAL platoons each, consisting of two officers and 16 enlisted personnel. The major operational components of NSWC include Naval Special Warfare Groups One, Three, and Eleven stationed in Coronado, CA, and Naval Special Warfare Groups Two and Four and the Naval Special Warfare Development Group in Little Creek, VA. These components deploy SEAL Teams, SEAL Delivery Vehicle Teams, and Special Boat Teams worldwide to meet the training, exercise, contingency and wartime requirements of theater commanders. NSWC has approximately 5,400 total active-duty personnel—including 2,450 SEALs and 600 Special Warfare Combatant-Craft Crewmen (SWCC)—as well as a 1,200-person reserve component of approximately 325 SEALs, 125 SWCC and 775 support personnel. SEALs are considered the best-trained combat swimmers in the world, and can be deployed covertly from submarines or from sea and land-based aircraft. Marine Special Operations Command (MARSOC) 17 On November 1, 2005, DOD announced the creation of the Marine Special Operations Command (MARSOC) as a component of USSOCOM. MARSOC consists of four subordinate units—the 1st and 2nd Marine Special Operations Battalions, the Marine Special Operations Advisory Group, and the Marine Special Operations Support Group. MARSOC Headquarters, the 2nd Marine Special Operations Battalion, the Marine Special Operations School, and the Marine Special Operations Support Group are stationed at Camp Lejeune, NC. The 1st Marine Special Operations Battalion is stationed at Camp Pendleton, CA. MARSOC forces have been deployed world-wide to conduct a full range of special operations activities. Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) According to DOD, the JSOC is “a joint headquarters designed to study special operations requirements and techniques; ensure interoperability and equipment standardization; plan and 16 Information in this section is from “Fact Book: United States Special Operations Command,” USSOCOM Public Affairs, February 2009, p. 18 and the U.S. Naval Special Warfare Command Website, http://www.navsoc.navy.mil, accessed March 19, 2009. 1717 Information in this section is from “Fact Book: United States Special Operations Command,” USSOCOM Public Affairs, February 2009, p. 34. Congressional Research Service 4 U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF): Background and Issues for Congress conduct joint special operations exercises and training; and develop joint special operations tactics.”18 While not officially acknowledged by DOD or USSOCOM, JSOC, which is headquartered at Pope Air Force Base, NC, is widely believed to command and control what are described as the military’s special missions units—the Army’s Delta Force, the Navy’s SEAL Team Six—as well as the 75th Ranger Regiment, the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment and the Air Force’s 24th Special Tactics Squadron. 19 JSOC’s primary mission is believed to be identifying and destroying terrorists and terror cells worldwide. Current Issues FY2010 USSOCOM Budget Request USSOCOM’s FY2010 Budget Request is $8.647 billion—with $5.9 billion in the baseline budget and $2.7 billion in the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) budget.20 Among other things, this request is intended to support FY2010 USSOCOM growth of 2,349 military and civilian personnel allocated as follows: • U.S. Army Special Operations Command: 1,048 personnel; • Air Force Special Operations Command: 791 personnel; • Naval Special Warfare Command: 157 personnel; • Marine Corps Special Operations Command: 163 personnel; • Joint Special Operations Command: 62 personnel; • Theater Special Operations Commands: 139 personnel; and • Headquarters, U.S. Special Operations Command: a net reduction of 11 personnel. In its markup of the FY2010 Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 2647), the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) authorized $ 9 billion, an increase of $308 million in order to fully support USSOCOM’s counterterrorism mission as well as, among other things, providing assistance to foreign forces supporting USSOCOM’s counterterror efforts, a NATO Special Operations Coordination Center, and the Irregular Warfare Support Program. 21 18 USSOCOM website http://www.socom.mil/components/components.htm, accessed March 19, 2008. Jennifer D. Kibbe, “The Rise of the Shadow Warriors,” Foreign Affairs, Volume 83, Number 2, March/April 2004 and Sean D. Naylor, “JSOC to Become Three-Star Command,” Army Times, February 13, 2006. 20 Information in this section is from the United States Special Operations Command FY2010 Budget Highlights, May 21, 2009. 21 House Armed Services Committee, Summary of H.R. 2647, the FY2010 National Defense Authorization Act, June 17, 2009, pp. 27-28. 19 Congressional Research Service 5 U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF): Background and Issues for Congress SOF Competition for Support Forces22 There is growing concern by some that when large numbers of conventional forces depart Iraq, that SOF staying behind may not have adequate logistical and transportation support, as U.S. conventional support units that provide significant support for SOF, will not be replaced. This support includes fuel, maintenance, helicopter and ground transportation, as well as facility and food support services. Support from conventional units—sometimes referred to as “enablers”— such as engineers, military police, intelligence, signal, and medical units is also in high demand from SOF units. One concern is that when conventional forces do begin their anticipated largescale departure this year, that remote SOF units that rely on nearby conventional force support, may have to pull out of their operational areas and consolidate near remaining logistical support units, which could adversely impact SOF missions. A similar dependence by SOF in Afghanistan on conventional units is also of concern. In the case of Afghanistan, where there are no immediate plans for force reductions, SOF forces rely on conventional helicopter units for over one half of their helicopter support. Because of anticipated increased demand for support as the U.S. increases conventional force levels in Afghanistan, there is concern that support forces will have a difficult time meeting growing demands, and that SOF operations may suffer. One proposed solution would be the establishment of additional SOF support units within USSOCOM, but USSOCOM leadership is said to favor the development of more conventional force support units that could, in turn, be used to support SOF units and operations. Issues for Congress SOF and Adequacy of Support Forces SOF’s access to support forces and enablers also raises a number of issues for potential consideration. While USSOCOM does have organic support forces for its components, the demands of operating in almost 60 countries has likely strained the modest capabilities of these support forces. In Iraq, the possibility that SOF operations may have to be modified because there may not be enough support forces or enablers to sustain them after the majority of U.S. conventional forces depart is particularly troubling. The short-term solution appears to be to retain support forces and enablers in Iraq to insure adequate support for SOF and increase support forces and enablers in Afghanistan so that SOF operations are not degraded by the anticipated introduction of additional U.S. conventional ground forces in Afghanistan. These solutions, while potentially solving the SOF support problem, would likely create problems for the Army because they might be unable to reset these forces to support future deployments of Army combat formations. Longer term solutions could include establishing organic, higher echelon support forces in USSOCOM, but USSOCOM would prefer that the Services increase their support forces so that USSOCOM forces could obtain their in-theater support from these units. 22 Information in this section is from Testimony Before the House Armed Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Terrorism and Unconventional Threats and Capabilities, “Special Operations Forces: Challenges and Opportunities,” Roger D. Carstens, Center for a New American Security, March 3, 2009; Lolita C. Baldor, “Iraqi Pullout Raises Concerns for Elite Forces,” Army Times, March 7, 2009; Sean D. Naylor, “A Duel for the Enablers of U.S. Wars,” Defense News, March 16, 2009, p. 33. Congressional Research Service 6 U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF): Background and Issues for Congress While all Services provide a degree of support to their deployed USSOCOM components, a significant amount of in-theater support to U.S. SOF comes from the Army. In 2009, the total Army (Active and Reserve) plans to have 85 multi-functional support brigades and 113 functional support brigades, which would provide a significant amount of logistical and “enabling” support to land-based deployed U.S. SOF.23 This represents 87% of planned growth, as the Army plans on a total of 97 multi-functional support brigades and 130 functional support brigades by FY2013 to achieve 100% planned growth. While the Army likely accounted for support to SOF as well as other Services in determining this total proposed growth in support brigades, it is not clear if the current high level of SOF support in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other theaters has changed requirements. Requirements for support brigades and possibly Army aviation units that, in some cases, have provided over half of U.S. SOF’s rotary wing support, may have increased since the Army first developed its support force structure requirements. Given current and potential future demands from U.S. SOF for logistics support and support from “enablers,” a comprehensive review of the adequacy of current and planned logistical and enabling forces might be beneficial. Such a review—possibly involving DOD, the Services, and USSOCOM—might include an examination of all potential solutions, including the establishment of additional units within USSOCOM, or establishing new units within the Services from which USSOCOM can draw support when deployed on operations. Author Contact Information Andrew Feickert Specialist in Military Ground Forces afeickert@crs.loc.gov, 7-7673 23 U.S. Army Briefing to Congressional Staff Members: GAO Report on Army Modularity, January 16, 2009, p. 10. Congressional Research Service 7