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US Army Special Operations Forces: Overview and Programmes

USASOC in detail for AUSA 2018 


This abridged article (for full article, please see MT #10-2018 available at AUSA 2018 in Washington, DC/USA, or order here) highlights how US Army Special Operations Command (USASOC) remains a highly active component of the wider USSOCOM in an increasingly complex operating environment.

According to service officials, USASOC is tasked to, “man, train, equip, educate, organise, sustain and support forces to conduct special warfare and surgical strikes across the full range of military operations and spectrum of conflict in support of joint force commanders and interagency partners, to meet theatre and national objectives.”

Force components include the 1st, 3rd, 5th, 7th, 10th, 19th and 20th Special Forces Groups (SFG), stationed across the US but also responsible for supporting the various Theater Special Operations Commands in the Pacific (SOCPAC and SOCKOR), Africa (SOCAFRICA), Europe (SOCEUR), Latin America (SOCSOUTH), North America (SOCNOR) and the Middle East (SOCCENT).

Additionally, certain army SOF, including the 1st Special Operational Force Detachment-Delta (SFOD-D), 75th Ranger Regiment and the US Army Special Operations Aviation Command’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR), are also attached to US Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), which is headquartered with the USSOCOM in Tampa, FL/USA. These units are primarily tasked with the execution of joint counter-terrorism (CT) operations around the world: details are highly sensitive for obvious concerns surrounding operational security. Other entities under USASOC command include the JFK Special Warfare Centre, Military Information Support Operations Command, 95th Civil Affairs Brigade and 528th Sustainment Brigade.

Current operations remain heavily focused on military assistance (MA), CT and COIN operations in the Middle East, Africa and Asia Pacific to, “train, advise, assist and accompany,” partner nation forces to counter violent extremist organisations (VEO).

For full article, please see MT #10-2018 available at AUSA 2018 in Washington, DC/USA, or order here.

In order to support such a broad spectrum of special operations, USASOC relies heavily on the Special Operations Forces Acquisition, Technology and Logistics (SOF AT&L) centre, which is responsible for the procurement of materiel and technology including C4, Special Reconnaissance, Surveillance, and Exploitation (SRSE) and SOF Warrior programme elements covering Ground Mobility, Visual Augmentation Systems, Weapon Systems, Ammunition and Demolitions, Soldier Protection and Survival equipment. Below, MT considers several of the most notable programmes currently being addressed by the various programme offices: C4, SRSE and SOF Warrior.

A US Army Special Forces soldier, assigned to 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne), qualifies at a stress shoot range at Ft. Carson, CO/USA. (Photo: US Army/Sgt. Connor Mendez)


SOF AT&L’s Program Executive Office for C4 (PEO-C4) is responsible for the development, acquisition and fielding of C4 systems allowing SOF users to, “reach back into the Global Information Grid,” and operate with any force combination in multiple environments.

One of the most critical programmes currently being executed by PEO-C4 is the SOF Tactical Communications (STC) effort, which has already contracted Harris to design, develop and build the Next Generation Handheld (NGHH) and Next Generation MANPACK (NGMP) solutions.

Elsewhere, the PEO for Special Reconnaissance, Surveillance, and Exploitation (PEO-SRSE), which supports force elements to, “deter, disrupt and defeat terrorist threats and sustain and modernise the force in persistent intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance,” is also considering moves to support US Army SFGs in the urban environment. According to CTTSO’s 2017 Review Book, published in December 2017, VEOs continue to use, “underground tunnels to launch rockets, cache weapons, smuggle goods and personnel and conduct other illicit and hostile activities that threaten our borders and security forces operating overseas.”

PEO SOF Warrior is currently tasked with more than 130 programmes with total investment of more than U$1 billion as part of the Major Force Program, according to USSOCOM officials. Of the focus areas identified earlier perhaps one of the most interesting is highlighted in the Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS) concept, which is due to unveil a final Technology Demonstrator to USSOCOM Commander, Gen. Tony Thomas, later in 2018. It is being designed to provide a next-generation solution for urban warfare operations, providing a holistic soldier ensemble featuring mobility, lethality and survivability systems.

Precision in lethality remains a key requirement for USASOC units, with the army currently pursuing multiple solutions to provide next-generation lethal effects. Options include the Advanced Sniper Rifle (ASR), for which an RfI was expected to be released in February. The programme seeks to select a modular, multi-calibre weapon system for sniper teams, providing a capability to utilise several ammunition types including NATO 7.62x51mm, .300 Norma Magnum and .338 Norma Magnum.

For full article, please see MT #10-2018 available at AUSA 2018 in Washington, DC/USA, or order here.

USASOC remains a role model for aspiring SOF organisations globally. Its integration into and influence over the wider USSOCOM and global SOF network cannot be overestimated, with a series of partnering agreements as previously listed.

However, the re-emergence of near-peer adversaries, including Russia and China, means USASOC and USSOCOM continue to strive to maintain tactical overmatch, not only in terms of materiel and technology but also doctrine, concepts of operation, tactics, techniques and procedures.

Andrew White


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