U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF): Background and Issues for Congress [January 11, 2012]   [open pdf - 294KB]

"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 close to 60,000 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. [...] The National Defense Authorization Act for FY2012 (P.L. 112-81) authorized $10.4 billion for USSOCOM and contained a number of provisions. The provisions include a review of USSOCOM's dry combat submersible programs; a prohibition on obligating funds for aviation foreign internal defense programs; establishment of an annual requirement for enabling forces; a study of SOF training ranges; re-designation of military information support operations; and a study on USSOCOM sub-unified command structure. [...] 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. While there are presently few specifics known, this new strategic direction has the potential to significantly impact U.S. SOF. Of potential concern to Congress is that with fewer general purpose forces, SOF operational tempo might increase. While DOD maintains that it is willing to increase its investment in SOF, there are limitations on expansion because of stringent qualification and training standards. In addition, little is known about how SOF would be employed under this new strategy and if it even has the ability to take on new mission requirements. The further downsizing of ground forces (Army and Marines) also brings up concerns that the services might be hard-pressed to establish and dedicate enabling units needed by USSOCOM while at the same time adequately supporting general purpose forces. An examination of proposed force structure in relation to anticipated requirements for enabling forces could prove useful to Congress. This report will be updated."

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CRS Report for Congress, RS21048
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