USSOCOM: Firefights & Finances Amidst Fiscal Austerity

     The U.S.’s tier one fighting force is known as United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM). The purpose of USSOCOM is to “Provide fully capable Special Operations Forces to defend the United States and its interests [and to] Synchronize planning of global operations against terrorist networks.” [1] USSOCOM is the Special Forces equivalent to the United States Central Command (USCENTCOM), which is the central unified command for the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines. Whereas CENTCOM oversees the command for the general enlisted military forces, USSOCOM was specifically created for Special Forces components of the four aforementioned branches of the military. As all of these unified commands are military entities, they fall under the jurisdiction of the Department of Defense.

     USSOCOM is as unique as it is integral. The President utilizes the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) as an advisory position when it comes to making military policy. Per the synthesis and interactions with the JCS and the intelligence community, the President can then issue a directive for a military operation or covert action. In terms of Special Operations, this is where the connection between policy and engagement proceeds. USSOCOM takes the tier one Special Forces operators from all branches of the military, commanding “all active and reserve Special Operations Forces of all armed forces stationed in the United States.” [2]  USSOCOM is located at the MacDill Air Force Base in Florida. Specifically, USSOCOM is comprised of U.S. Army Special Operations Command (USASOC), Naval Special Warfare Command (NAVSPECWARCOM), Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) and Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC). [3]  With such a breadth of command control, USSOCOM has roughly “57,000 active duty, Reserve and National Guard Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Department of Defense civilians” at its disposal. [4]  Given the weight of the responsibility that USSOCOM has been charged with, their importance in U.S. defense cannot be overstated.

Operational History

     The Goldwater-Nichols Defense Reorganization Act of 1986 and the subsequent Nunn-Cohen Amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act of 1987 laid the groundwork for the development of USSOCOM. The call for an upgrade to U.S. Special Forces and their capabilities arose from the strategic failures during the Iran Hostage Crisis. In early April of 1980, U.S. President Jimmy Carter authorized Operation Eagle Claw in an attempt to rescue the hostages at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. [5]  The mission was an utter failure and arguably the death knell of the Carter administration. However, the U.S. military would learn from the operation’s failures and implement policy to prevent a recurrence of such failure. USSOCOM operates on two levels, one passive and one active. USSOCOM constantly pursues the best and emerging technologies to meet their equipment and arms requirements. In doing so, USSOCOM can be ready at a moment’s notice when called to the battlefield. The mission of USSOCOM is to not only have Special Forces at the ready, but to also make sure they have the necessary tools to get the job done. The caliber of the missions assigned to USSOCOM is unparalleled. For instance, their killing of Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan during Operation Neptune Spear required cutting edge technology, highly advanced weaponry, and unrivaled training. It is specifically for this reason that adequate financing needs to be available for USSOCOM.

Financial Protocols

     USSOCOM is comprised of a combination of military branches, yet it is not reliant on any of them in regards to finances, appropriations, budgeting, and acquisitions. Representing about 1.5% of the Department of Defense’s annual Budget, "USSOCOM has its own budgetary authorities and responsibilities through a specific Major Force Program (MFP-11) in DOD’s budget." [6] [7] Within USSOCOM there is the Special Operations Research, Development, and Acquisition Center's (SORDAC). SORDAC is the link in the chain between the administration of USSOCOM and the holder of the purse, the U.S. Congress.

     Running USSOCOM is an expensive endeavor for the U.S. In 2011 that actual USSOCOM budget was $10.35 billion, in 2012 $10.47 billion was appropriated, and a slightly reduced $10.40 billion requested for fiscal year 2013. [8] USSOCOM handles mission specific equipment procurement on numerous levels. From small business contracts for small arms ammunition to emerging stealth technologies, USSOCOM is responsible for satisfying their own specific equipment requirements. [9]

     The needs of USSOCOM are constantly evolving as new technology becomes available, as well as in conjunction with an expansion of USSOCOM’s role in the U.S. military’s repertoire. As evidence of this, while the annual budget of USSOCOM has maintained at around $10 billion over the last three years, the allotment for overseas contingency operations (OCO’s) has shrunk by an average of 20% per fiscal year. [10] The routinization of OCO’s has led to the practice of the core budget incorporating what was previously accounted for in the OCO’s. So effectively the budget has maintained, but the line item breakdown demonstrates the U.S. reliance upon USSOCOM. Furthermore, USSOCOM’s 2013 budget justification describes “a new normal that requires Special Operations Forces (SOF) forces to be persistently forward-deployed.” [11]  Interestingly, while the line item budget accounts for every dollar USSOCOM spends, the specificity of what is entailed by “operational support” or “intelligence” is quite vague, even in the instances that a description is not obscured by being “classified.” [12]

     The specialized and adaptive platform that USSOCOM is modeled on includes fiscal considerations. Irrespective of the current state of the economy, the foreign strategic threats against the U.S. will still remain. Thus USSOCOM was designed to accomplish its goals on the bare minimum of budgetary funding. As a demonstration of this notion, USSOCOM was awarded the Department of Defense’s Better Buying Power Efficiency Award in November 2012 for “closing a capability gap with effective, timely, and affordable technologies.” [13]  This highly successful result was a product of SORDAC’s aim to “execute approved program profiles within 10% deviation of cost, schedule, and performance.” [14]

Directive from the Electorate

     After 9/11, U.S. Special Forces had to switch gears and operate within a radical new framework. What resulted from this shift was an overhaul of how military and intelligence agencies were structured. Interagency cooperation between civilian and military agencies was increased, while redundancies were reduced. Gone was the mantra of compartmentalization. With no allegiances to a flag or a state, the new enemy aligned with ideas and personalities. The global playing field switched from state actors to insurgencies, transnational revolutionaries, and civilian combatants. U.S. General Hayden stated,
“The Soviet Union's most deadly forces - ICBMs, tank armies - they were actually relatively easy to find, but they were very hard to kill. Intelligence was important, don't get me wrong, but intelligence was overshadowed by the need for raw, shear fire power. Today the situation is reversed. We're now in an age in which our primary adversary is easy to kill, he's just very hard to find. So you can understand why so much emphasis in the last five years has been placed on intelligence.” [15]
The policy issue has now been framed. The protocol by which the U.S. dictates the operation and implementation of military assets is of paramount importance. However the U.S. is a representative democracy. So in theory the American public ought to have an input as to how these defense policies manifest. How exactly does the American public express its interest as to how the U.S. Special Forces conducts itself?

     While they often provide a mandate via the election of candidates, the general public is not regularly kept in the loop. The electorate assigns and delegates responsibility of such matters to the officials they elect, both in the legislative and the executive branches. Upon election to office, U.S. Congressmen are assigned security clearances purely because they have been elected. Positions like the Secretary of Defense, or lesser under-secretary positions, are filled by appointments and/or promotions. Currently the Commander of USSOCOM is 4 Star Admiral William H. McRaven. He was promoted from the sub-unified command within USSOCOM, the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). [16]  It was under his direction that Operation Neptune Spear was conducted, earning him major recognition for leading the effort that was responsible for the killing of Osama Bin Laden.

Moving Forward

     Public opinion has manifested a call for fiscal responsibility in the U.S. government. Elected officials have been given the mandate to trim down irresponsible spending in Washington. Even with the U.S.’s security and safety concerns, the public has still called for across the board spending cuts. Most likely this is due to the classified and overall secret nature of U.S. defense policy. Yet these are core notions inherently tied to Special Forces. As a result, the head of the JCS, General Martin Dempsey has voiced concern over cuts to the defense budget by stating that the U.S. would “be less visible and active globally because we’d have a much smaller force.” [17] If these cuts were across the board, as General Dempsey suggests, the ability for USSOCOM to be fully capable and plan global operations would be severely impeded.

     The financial appropriations for USSOCOM must not be unilaterally reduced because of the broad need for spending reductions. Luckily there is a strong case for why USSOCOM is clearly a top tier component of the U.S. military and subsequently should be exempt from budget cuts. The director for SORDAC, James Cluck echoed this viewpoint by stating,
“If USSOCOM is expected to innovate, bringing in the latest next generation of capability, we’ve got to do that and fund it with research & development (R&D) to get the creative juices flowing within industry to be able to see what the possible solutions may be to challenges on the battlefield. It’s very difficult to do that when your R&D is shrinking.” [18]
This sentiment captures the need to maintain the fiscal certitude that has been provided to USSOCOM. To do otherwise would essentially defeat the purpose of USSOCOM, something that U.S. defense policy could not accept. Furthermore, the manner in which USSOCOM has efficiently used its budget should be rewarded with fiscal certainty. The clear, concise mission directive USSOCOM has been charged with and the high rate of operational success achieved therein should be self-evident justification for not altering the fiscal position of USSOCOM in the U.S. federal Budget.

End Notes

[1] (USSOCOM, 2012) 
[2] (USSOCOM History & Research Office, 2008, p. 19) 
[3] (USSOCOM, 2011) 
[4] Ibid. 
[5] (Mark Bowden, 2008) 
[6] (USSOCOM History & Research Office, 2008, p. 24) 
[7] (USSOCOM, 2011) 
[8] (USSOCOM Public Affairs, 2012, p. 9) 
[9] (Beckhusen, 2012) 
[10] (USSOCOM Public Affairs, 2012, p. 9) 
[11] (USSOCOM, 2012) 
[12] Ibid. 
[13] (Bottoms, 2012) 
[14] (Cluck, 2011) 
[15] (Hayden, 2007) 
[16] (Gellman, 2011) 
[17] (CNN Security Brief, 2012) 
[18] (Weisgerber, 2012) 

Works Cited

Beckhusen, R. (2012, November 21). Silent but deadly: Special forces seek quiet, subsonic bullets. Retrieved from CNN Wired:

Bottoms, M. (2012, November 7). USSOCOM Wins First-Ever DOD Better Buying Power Efficiency Award. Retrieved from USSOCOM:

Cluck, J. W. (2011, May). SORDAC Executive Summary. Retrieved from USSOCOM:

CNN Security Brief. (2012, June 14). Dempsey worried about potential half trillion in cuts to defense budget. Retrieved from CNN Security Clearance:

Gellman, B. (2011, December 4). William McRaven: The Admiral. Retrieved from TIME:,28804,2101745_2102133_2102330,00.html

Hayden, G. M. (2007, September 7). Remarks at the Council on Foreign Relations. Retrieved from CIA: Speeches & Testimony:

Mark Bowden. (2008, May 5). The Desert One Debacle. Retrieved from The Atlantic:

USSOCOM. (2011, October 9). About USSOCOM. Retrieved from USSOCOM:

USSOCOM. (2012, February). Fiscal Year 2013 Budget Estimates. Retrieved from

USSOCOM. (2012, December 4). Mission of U.S. Special Operations Command . Retrieved from United States Special Operations Command:

USSOCOM History & Research Office. (2008, March 31). USSOCOM History. Retrieved from

USSOCOM Public Affairs. (2012, February). FY 2013 Budget Highlights for USSOCOM. Retrieved from

Weisgerber, M. (2012, April 3). SOCOM Eyes Eventual Boost in R&D Funding. Retrieved from Defense News:


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