Linking Conventional and Special Operations
The Armed Forces have consistently demonstrated
their skill in conducting joint operations. However, their capability
exists almost exclusively on the operational level. To cope with
nonstate enemies in the global war on terrorism, jointness must
extend down to the tactical level. Small and agile joint units,
self-sustaining or with reachback logistics, executing missions
independently but based on national source real-time intelligence,
are the wave of the future. The interface between special operations
and conventional forces on the division and corps level is a critical
seam in joint doctrine. Likewise, the Special Operations Forces
(SOF) community must examine its doctrinal interface at the seam
between joint and combined operations.
Examples from the Korean peninsula are useful because joint and
combined forces operate there every day in a standing theater of
war. But the same concepts are relevant for future conflicts in
which special operations and conventional forces will work together.
Special Operations Forces typically function
on the operational and strategic levels but in reality are tactical
assets with a strategic impact. As such they interface with conventional
forces on several levels. A joint special operations component command
(JFSOCC) is a headquarters that provides liaison with other components.
It has planners, operators, and intelligence personnel at multiple
points within a theater. Coordination and synchronization between
special operations and conventional forces is key, not only to multiply
the effects of friendly engagement but to prevent fratricide among
friendly units. Both tasks are more difficult in combined warfare.
One doctrinal connection in the area of responsibility of a corps
or division on the operational and tactical levels is the special
operations command and control element (SOCCE). As an Army element,
Special Forces have traditionally been concerned only with other
Army SOF units. In joint and combined warfare, however, it must
coordinate all SOF-Army, Navy, Air Force, and allied forces operating
within the area of responsibility of its supported unit.
Within a corps or division area, Special Operations
Forces come under SOF command and control, although in some situations
they may be placed under the operational control of supported commanders.
Field Manual 3-05.2 stipulates that while Special Operations Forces
are not usually integrated into conventional forces, it is necessary
for the "simultaneous or sequenced execution of separate actions
in time and space to achieve a synergistic effect." A special
operations command and control element is the doctrinal synchronization
organization with operational or tactical control of Special Operations
Forces in the area of responsibility of supported units and is also
equipped to provide communications with either JFSOCC or Special
Forces group headquarters.
Special operations command and control elements
are formed around an existing table of organization and equipment,
such as a Special Forces company headquarters. In some situations
they may be organized around battalion headquarters. The element
arrives at the supported headquarters with personnel and equipment
for a minimum of 30 days. Traditionally this mission provides connectivity
only with Special Forces in their role as "the primary and
often the only direct link from the conventional forces to the SOF
command and control structure." In the joint warfighting environment,
however, it can operate with allied corps or division headquarters
and be composed of both U.S. and allied forces. Current doctrine
recognizes that augmentation may be needed, but it does not flesh
out such augmentation well, nor are there routine opportunities
to train as a joint and combined force operating in a joint and
For example, each field army in Korea is augmented
by a special operations command and control element organized around
a Special Forces operational detachment in its headquarters. The
reality is that each field army is on the coast, so ROK and U.S.
Army Special Forces and Navy SEALs, as well as Air Force aircrews
and special tactical squadron personnel, can be expected to operate
in the area in front of the field army. Currently a special operations
command and control element is composed exclusively of Army personnel
and has little visibility outside its own area of responsibility.
In Korea, Special Operations Command Korea combines with ROK Special
Warfare Command to form the combined unconventional warfare task
force during wartime.
A special operations command and control element
may be augmented by Korean personnel to provide language capability
because the task force has a combined forward operating base with
the field army headquarters, which has a Korean element that commands
operational detachments within the area of responsibility. Duplicating
control mechanisms does not provide redundancy because the command
and control element and operating base do not coordinate their efforts.
Thus only Army personnel synchronize the effects of Army-only teams
(sometimes with Korean forces) within the area of responsibility
of the field army. Not only is the expertise of SOCCE personnel
limited to Army functions, but the communications package that accompanies
this element is set up to meet only the needs of the Army mission.
Doctrine, training, and equipping need to emphasize the joint special
operations part of the SOCCE title, so the element is staffed and
trained to control all Special Operations Forces in the field army
area of responsibility.
In addition to staffing and equipping a command
and control element to accomplish the full range of SOF control,
a fully manned element must train routinely as a unit to perform
its mission. A one-time deployment to Korea for an exercise, anticipating
that an element will garner the requisite knowledge, is unrealistic.
And to expect it to grasp the complexities of the Korean theater
of operations during wartime courts disaster. The joint mission
essential task list for each Special Forces operational headquarters
needs to contain specific tasks for operating as a joint command
and control element in a coalition environment, and these headquarters
need the opportunity to train in that environment.
Although a special operations command and control
element may be rotated to the National Training Center, it is not
situated at corps headquarters, which has units in the training
box, since the corps is a player control element in the control
center. And collocating a command and control element turns it into
a white cell element, making it part of the exercise control center
and privy to all aspects of the exercise, both friendly and enemy,
which eliminates any gain from participating as a player unit. This
is a typical exercise problem when the main units are conventional
brigades or divisions. For an element to participate in its full
mission profile, the exercise must have player units from the tactical
to strategic level-for example, from battalion to theater army.
Since that is costly, the SOF portion of the exercise often gets
The Task at Hand
Perhaps the most critical task for a command
and control element in synchronizing special operations and conventional
forces is preventing fratricide among SOF units from close air support
and artillery. Without closely monitoring the fire support coordination
line as it moves forward, fratricide is likely. The element needs
access to the tactical operations center of the supported unit as
well as real-time vision of the common operating picture. While
there is no established answer to locating an element, it may be
advisable to place it with the supported unit center. This provides
access to a supported unit command structure. Separation from the
special operations coordination detachment, which is a staff element
at corps level or other supported unit, may be advisable. The detachment
performs staff functions, not command and control, and collocation
will confuse roles and may deflect critical command issues. Moreover,
the element must provide intelligence up and down the chain. Operational
detachments in front of the corps or army have eyes-on-target and
can provide relevant intelligence to supported units. On the other
hand, a special operations command and control element must ensure
that intelligence reaches the detachments to assure their survival
and mission success. Intelligence may simply be intelligence, but
critical intelligence requirements are different at various locations
on the battlefield.
What conventional force commanders must understand
to fight a counterfire battle is not the same as what operational
detachment commanders need to know to survive in the deep battle
area. A special operations command and control element must be able
to access not only conventional force intelligence, but also JFSOCC
intelligence products to ensure that feeds to deployed Special Operations
Forces are relevant. Naval Special Warfare Command maintains a mission
support center in San Diego to provide real-time intelligence to
SEAL teams worldwide. The center does not eliminate the need for
teams to get intelligence feeds from the theater joint intelligence
center through JFSOCC, but it is another source of specific intelligence.
Command and control elements, however, must be able to access every
source that provides intelligence to its components to ensure that
both levels have the same picture of the battlefield. Thus these
elements, or at least JFSOCC, must be connected to national, theater,
and center intelligence feeds.
A special operations command and control element
must also provide guidance to deployed forces as the situation changes.
It must transmit fragmentary orders to detachments to re-mission
or modify missions. As conventional forces approach SOF team locations,
the element must plan to implement the linkup. This is perhaps the
most dangerous phase of the SOF mission as well as the phase that
receives the least training and rehearsal. When the deployed forces
include elements of Special Forces units as well as SEALs, implementing
the linkup is delicate and critical. Hence the need for routine
joint and combined augmentation and training.
Finally, according to Field Manual 3-05.2,
while a special operations command and control element is not responsible
for planning or executing civil affairs (CA) or psychological operations
(PSYOP) activities except as incidental to its mission, both are
performed by Special Operations Forces and may be integral to the
mission. Often overlooked as a force multiplier, PSYOP proved valuable
in Desert Storm by encouraging Iraqi soldiers to surrender and in
Afghanistan by gaining the support of the civilian population. As
soon as a semipermissive environment is established, CA units can
assist in restoring governmental control by helping rebuild infrastructure.
Deployed Special Forces teams are usually the first units in hostile
areas and, if augmented by CA or PSYOP personnel, can assess the
needs for civil affairs support and determine the impact of psychological
operations on enemy forces as well as civilian populations. Consequently,
augmenting an element with CA and PSYOP personnel assists in effectively
using a range of SOF capabilities.
Foremost is a package that can establish secure
communication with the theater special operations command, allied
forces, and theater command system, including connectivity for the
SEAL mission support center and other intelligence feeds, either
directly or through JFSOCC. Communications with theater includes
the ability to obtain the common relevant operating picture. In
Korea this means connectivity to the Global Command and Control
A special operations command and control element
must have qualified linguists in a coalition environment. Interpretation
must not be left simply to contract or military personnel who are
native speakers. Not every bilingual person can think in two languages.
In addition, knowledge of military terminology in both languages
is critical. Doctrine may be difficult to translate without detailed
Elements that will be expected to operate as
special operations command and control resources in wartime need
a habitual training and working relationship. Expecting an element
to deploy to a theater as complicated as Korea and function effectively
on arrival is unrealistic. Korea operates under three major command
structures- the combined ROK/U.S. Forces Command, United Nations
Command, and U.S. Forces Korea. Even after fifty years the two militaries
are continually refining these multiple command and control structures.
Where will ammunition, intelligence, and air support come from?
Such questions should not wait until combat is under way. Consequently,
besides defining a basic joint SOCCE structure, we must assure that
the structure routinely operates in its host nation environment.
Even if only some members have had that opportunity, there may be
enough situational awareness and personal relationships with the
host military to overcome cultural differences.
To conduct joint and combined warfare, a special
operations command and control element must be configured for success.
Personnel will be chosen based on the mission and circumstances
but would include-and each operational detachment should train with-certain
common elements. Augmentation by Army and Air Force SOF aviation
facilitates coordinated infiltration, exfiltration, and resupply
missions by fixed and rotary wing air assets, with the joint special
operations liaison element collocated with the air component command.
If a command and control element has SEALs operating within its
area in a coalition environment, a special operations command and
control element needs routine joint augmentation of responsibility,
it should have SEAL augmentation as connectivity with the naval
special warfare command mission support center and the naval special
operations liaison element collocated with the naval component command
headquarters. This latter element would be part of a communications
package for secure communications with higher and lower headquarters
as well as with theater and allied headquarters.
Within a coalition, a special operations command
and control element should be augmented with appropriate counterpart
organizations from allied militaries as well as host nations. This
will require interpreters from every contributing nation. In order
to pass intelligence to allied forces, the element must have a trained
foreign disclosure officer. Allies cannot access critical intelligence
without this augmentation.
Moreover, a command and control element is
not doctrinally responsible for either planning or conducting CA
or PSYOP activities. That expertise will be required as the battle
unfolds, and the activities must be planned in advance. After the
victory over the Taliban, coalition forces looked to civil affairs
units to provide humanitarian relief before winter and rebuild the
infrastructure before the population soured on the national government
and created conditions for a Taliban resurgence. When the U.S. military
succeeds in crushing enemy forces, PSYOP and CA assets are needed
to consolidate the victory and avoid slipping back into hostile
The Way Ahead
Current doctrine must be reviewed in light
of the demand for special operations command and control elements
in a joint and combined environment. Tasks must be developed and
missions anticipated so forces are prepared to assume this responsibility.
Beyond simply identifying the mission and tasks in doctrinal publications,
forces must train to appropriate mission standards to accomplish
their assignments. This consideration, along with habitual training
relationships, is important to the transition to warfare in areas
in which Special Operations Forces deploy.
One way to increase the abilities of a special
operations command and control element is including basics such
as the Special Forces qualification course exercise to enable students
to learn joint planning challenges first hand. The Joint Special
Operations University should develop a program of instruction and
exercise on joint manning. Joint Readiness Training Center and National
Training Center rotations should include a joint special operations
command and control element, but the exercise must be scripted to
portray group interaction on the division, corps, and theater levels.
Simulation exercises are a cost-effective way
of training headquarters and staffs without the expense of deploying
troops to the field, but they do not portray Special Operations
Forces well. They concentrate on the main battle area, which is
usually focused in time and terrain. Because Special Operations
Forces normally operate deep in the battlespace, it becomes difficult
to model the large terrain areas necessary to accommodate special
operations and conventional forces in the same exercise. Without
combining these two warfighting elements, however, realistic training
for special operations command and control elements is lost. Consequently,
the best full mission profile training is probably in conjunction
with major joint exercises such as Ulchi Focus Lens. Yet because
Korean units are practicing defending their territory while Special
Operations Forces train to deploy in enemy territory, there is an
artificiality that must be bridged by careful scripting.
Getting the interface right between special
operations and conventional forces on the tactical level is critical
to the conduct of joint and combined warfare. Although Special Operations
Forces are working jointly on the operational and strategic levels,
they must be able to extend jointness to the tactical level by effectively
staffing and training special operations command and control elements.
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