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Monday, February 25, 2013

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

Andrew Feickert
Specialist in Military Ground Forces

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. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) has about 63,000 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. The 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) directs increases in SOF force structure, particularly in terms of increasing enabling units and rotary and fixed-wing SOF aviation assets and units.

USSOCOM’s FY2013 Budget Request was $10.409 billion, 0.6% lower (due to decreases in Operations & Maintenance, Research, Development, Test, & Evaluation, Procurement, and Military Construction funding) than the FY2012 Appropriation of $10.477 billion. USSOCOM’s FY2013 Budget Request also represented the first year some Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funding will be migrated into USSOCOM’s baseline budget request. As part of USSOCOM’s FY2013 Budget Request, it plans to add an additional 3,355 service members and civilians, bringing it to a total of 66,594 personnel. During FY2013, USSOCOM plans to add its fifth and final 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR)-mandated Special Forces Battalion, as well as additional forces for the Ranger Regiment, Special Operations Aviation Regiment, and Civil Affairs and Military Information Support Operations units. In a similar manner, Air Force Special Operations plans to add additional personnel to a number of its units, and Naval Special Warfare, in addition to adding combat support and service support personnel, plans to add additional personnel to the Naval Special Warfare Center and School. The Marine Special Operations Command plans to add additional combat support and service support personnel in FY2013 as well.

The FY2013 NDAA recommends fully funding the Administration’s FY2013 request and adds an additional $159 million to fulfill a critical unfunded requirement for high-definition Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance capabilities. There are a number of legislative provisions contained in the FY2013 NDAA impacting not only funding but authorities as well.

On January 5, 2012, the Administration unveiled its new strategic guidance refocusing U.S. strategic efforts to the Pacific and the Middle East and, at the same time, proposing significant cuts to ground forces. This new strategic direction has the potential to significantly affect U.S. SOF. USSOCOM leadership continues to pursue additional authorities that would enable it to control the movement of SOF units deployed to a theater of operations as well as give additional authorities to Theater Special Operations Commands (TSOCs), which are allocated to each geographic combatant command. Another possible issue for congressional consideration is the balance between direct and indirect special operations activities in world-wide counterterrorism operations.

Date of Report: February 6, 2013
Number of Pages: 19
Order Number: RS21048
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