This primer on USSOCOM was written by Barbara Salazar Torreon, Acting Head of Research and
Library Services, and Andrew Feickert, Specialist in Military Ground Forces, for the Congressional Research Service.
Activated on April 16, 1987, and headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, FL, USSOCOM is the unified Combatant Command (COCOM) responsible for organizing, training, and equipping all U.S. SOF units.
Headquarters, USSOCOM consists of approximately 2,500 military and civilian personnel, and overall, the command has more than 70,000 personnel assigned to its headquarters, its service components, and sub-unified commands.
The USSOCOM commander is a four-star general officer from any Service, who reports directly to the SECDEF.
After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, USSOCOM’s responsibilities were expanded in the 2004 Unified Command Plan (UCP), assigning USSOCOM responsibility for coordinating the Department of Defense (DOD) plans against global terrorism and conducting global operations as directed. Since 2016, USSOCOM has also been assigned the roles coordinating authority over countering violent extremist operations (CVEO) and counter weapons of mass destruction (CWMD) operations.
USSOCOM Component Commands
Army Special Operations Command (USASOC)
On December 1, 1989, USASOC was established at Fort Bragg, NC, as a major Army command to enhance the readiness of Army SOF in the active and reserve components. With an allocated strength of approximately 33,000 personnel, USASOC consists of Special Forces (Green Berets), Rangers, Special Operations Aviators, Civil Affairs Soldiers, Military Information Support Operators, training cadre, and sustainment Soldiers. USASOC has three major subordinate commands: the 1st Special Forces Command (Airborne), U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School, and the U.S. Army Special Operations Aviation Command.
Naval Special Warfare Command (NSWC)
Established on April 16, 1987, and based in Coronado, CA, the NSWC is responsible for organizing training and equipping six Naval Special Warfare Groups (NSWG), the Naval Special Warfare Center (NSWC), and the Development Group (DEVGRU). With approximately 10,000 personnel, the NSWC consists of Sea, Air, Land (SEAL) Teams and Special Warfare Combatant Craft Crewmen (SWCC) as part of Special Boat Teams (SBTs). Enablers, including logistics, communications, intelligence, and explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) personnel, are also part of NSWC.
Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC)
Established May 22, 1990, with its headquarters at Hurlburt Field, FL, AFSOC is responsible for organizing, training and equipping seven Special Operations Wings (SOW), one Special Operations Group (SOG), and the Air Force Special Operations Air Warfare Center. AFSOC consists of about 20,800 personnel comprising Special Operations Aviators, Special Tactics Airmen—including Combat Controllers, Pararescuemen, Special Operations Weather Airmen, Tactical Air Control Party Airmen, Combat Aviation Advisors, and Support Air Commandos, who provide a wide variety of mission support service. The command’s active duty and reserve component flying units operate specially equipped fixed and rotary-wing aircraft.
Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC)
Headquartered in Camp Lejeune, NC, and established February 24, 2006, MARSOC consists of the Marine Raider Regiment, the Marine Raider Support Group, and the Marine Special Operations School. MARSOC’s almost 3,000 personnel consist of Critical Skills Operators, Special Operations Officers, Special Operations Capability Specialists, Special Operations Combat Services Specialists, and Special Operations Independent Duty Corpsmen.
Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC)
Activated in 1980, JSOC is a sub-unified command of USSOCOM and is charged to study special operations requirements and techniques, ensure interoperability and equipment standardization, plan and conduct special operations exercises and training, and develop joint special operations tactics.
Theater Special Operations Commands (TSOCs)
U.S. SOF frequently operates with conventional forces of the Joint Force. SOF theater-level command and control responsibilities are vested in Theater Special Operations Commands (TSOCs). TSOCs are sub-unified commands under their respective Geographic Combatant Commanders (GCCs). TSOCs are special operational headquarters elements designed to support a GCC’s special operations logistics, planning, and operational command and control requirements, and are normally commanded by a one- or two-star general officer from any Service. Current TSOCs include the following:
- Special Operations Command South (SOCSOUTH), Homestead Air Force Base, FL; supports U.S. Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM).
- Special Operations Command Africa (SOCAFRICA), Stuttgart, Germany; supports U.S. Africa Command (USAFRICOM).
- Special Operations Command Europe (SOCEUR), Stuttgart, Germany; supports U.S. European Command (USEUCOM).
- Special Operations Command Central (SOCCENT), MacDill Air Force Base, FL; supports U.S. Central Command (USCENTCOM).
- Special Operations Command Pacific (SOCPAC), Camp Smith, HI; supports U.S. Pacific Command (USPACOM).
- Special Operations Command Korea (SOCKOR), Camp Humphreys, South Korea; supports U.S. Forces Korea (USFK).
- Special Operations Command U.S. Northern Command (SOCNORTH), Peterson Air Force Base, CO; supports U.S. Northern Command (USNORTHCOM).