America’s 4 ‘functional’ Unified Combatant Commands

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As mentioned in the previous COCOM primer, unified combatant commands, or COCOMs, are the highest possible echelon of military command. They are overseen by the Unified Command Plan, or UCP, which guarantees that each COCOM is aligned with overarching national policy objectives. And each of the 11 COCOMs is led by a four-star flag officer, who answers directly to the Secretary of Defense. Each of these COCOMs exist to provide command and control for all units from all service branches, anywhere on the planet (or above it), during peace, war, and contingency operations.

Seven of these COCOMs are geographically oriented and focused (you can find a breakdown of those commands here). Four, though, are “functional.”

Functional means they are responsible for a clearly defined specific type of operation, etc., but across all geographical and spatial lines — as opposed to the geographically limited ones. Having covered the surface details of the seven geographic COCOMs previously, now let’s take a look at the functional ones.

In order of appearance…


Special Operations Command, or USSOCOM, was established in April of 1987. USSOCOM is tasked with command and control of the various special operations component commands of the United States Armed Forces. Special Operations include such missions as direct action, special reconnaissance, counter-terrorism, foreign internal defense, unconventional warfare, psychological warfare, civil affairs, and counter-narcotics operations. It is headquartered out of MacDill Air Force Base, Florida.


Unified Combatant Commands

Transportation Command, or USTRANSCOM, was established a few months after its sister COCOM, in July of 1987. This COCOM is responsible for providing full-spectrum global mobility solutions and enabling capabilities through transportation, in peace and war, planning and contingency. It moves people and property around the world. This mobility includes sealift, airlift, and surface lift — from railroad cars to stratotankers. It is headquartered out of Scott Air Force Base, Illinois.


Strategic Command, or USSTRATCOM, was established in June of 1992. USSTRATCOM is charged with strategic deterrence, global strike, and operating the Defense Department’s Global Information Grid. It achieves this through global command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4ISR) capabilities. In their own words — since this tends to be a slightly complicated slice of the defense pie — “USSTRATCOM employs nuclear, cyber, global strike, joint electronic warfare, missile defense, and intelligence capabilities to deter aggression, decisively and accurately respond if deterrence fails, assure allies, shape adversary behavior, defeat terror, and define the force of the future.” It is headquartered out of Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska.


Unified Combatant Commands

Cyber Command, or USCYBERCOM, was established in May of 2018. This unified combatant command is charged with synchronizing cyberspace operations and strengthening the nation’s cyberspace capabilities. As with STRATCOM, we’ll give you CYBERCOM’s own words on what they do… “USCYBERCOM plans, coordinates, integrates, synchronizes and conducts activities to: direct the operations and defense of specified Department of Defense information networks and; prepare to, and when directed, conduct full-spectrum military cyberspace operations in order to enable actions in all domains, ensure US/Allied freedom of action in cyberspace and deny the same to our adversaries.” It is headquartered out of Fort George G. Meade, Maryland.

I hope this two part series has been helpful and educational –maybe even entertaining! The more we know and understand about the systems within which we or our loved-ones work and live, the better off we’ll be.

Feature image courtesy of USSOCOM

Theo Dyssean

Theo Dyssean is a veteran of both the United States Army, and Air Force. He has also worked as a government civilian and contractor. He currently resides in Japan, and enjoys reading, writing, running, meeting new people, and learning new things.