Special Operations Command, Pacific (SOCPAC)
Special Operations Command, Pacific (SOCPAC) is the theater special operations command for US Pacific Command (PACOM) Theater and as such coordinates, plans, and directs special operations and related activities in the Pacific Theater. This supports Commander, PACOM objectives of deterring aggression, advancing regional security cooperation, responding to crises, and fighting to win. The Commander, SOCPAC is the advisor for special operations on the PACOM staff. The staff is organized with a command group, 6 directorates (SOJ1-SOJ6), and is augmented by the Joint Intelligence Support Element/Joint Intelligence Center Pacific (JISE/JICPAC) and a theater signal detachment from the Army's 112th Signal Battalion (Special Operations) (Airborne).
Part of SOCPAC's capability is based around Joint Task Force 510 (JTF-510), a rapidly deployable JTF Headquarters, which is nested within the command. When activated at the direction of the Secretary of Defense via Pacific Command, JTF-510 provides the PACOM commander with the ability to quickly establish command and control in support of emerging crises, such as disaster relief for tsunamis or earthquakes, humanitarian assistance for civil strife or non-combatant evacuation operations, or threat situations involving terrorist incidents. SOCPAC can also activate a second joint task force headquarters, Joint Task Force 509 (JTF-509), but the difference between the two is unclear. One theory is that each JTF might be led by a different component within SOCPAC. When JTF-510 was last activated, it was led by elements of 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne).
SOCPAC's strategy rests on a synchronized concept of operations called the Indirect Approach. The Indirect Approach focuses on 3 lines of operation: increasing partner nation security capacity, improving information gathering and sharing, and securing the support of the population. Specific tools used by SOCPAC in support of these lines of operations include the following: Joint and Combined Exchange Training (JCET); Counternarcotics Training (CNT); Foreign Internal Defense (FID); Subject Matter Expert Exchange (SMEE); Humanitarian Assistance/ Disaster Relief; Humanitarian Civic Action Programs; Humanitarian Mine Action (HMA); Information Operations and Public Affairs; Pacific Area Special Operations Conference (PASOC); and Joint Chiefs of Staff/PACOM Exercises.
Special Operations Command, Pacific (SOCPAC) traces its history to the Special Operations Center, Pacific Command, which was established on 1 November 1965. Headquartered in Okinawa, the unit provided unconventional warfare task force support for operations in Southeast Asia. After these functions transferred to the Commander in Chief, Pacific Command (CINCPAC) staff and subordinate commands, Special Operations Center, Pacific Command was dissolved on 1 July 1969. A special operations staff was established in the CINCPAC Operations Directorate on 15 May 1976, to meet increasing requirements for planning and coordinating in-theater special operations.
In October 1983, the Joint Chiefs of Staff directed the establishment of Special Operations Commands in the Pacific and European Theaters. Special Operations Command, Pacific (SOCPAC) was subsequently activated on 1 November 1983 with an initial total strength of only 18 personnel. In 1987, the decision was made to active a unified command for special operations forces, US Special Operations Command (SOCOM). On 28 December 1989, SOCPAC was assigned operational control (OPCON) of what became the 353d Special Operations Group, as well as, 1st Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne), both located on Okinawa, Japan, at Kadena Air Base and Torii Station, respectively. On 8 July 1991, SOCPAC assumed operational control of Naval Special Warfare Task Unit-Pacific and a subordinate SEAL platoon, which were based at Apra Harbor Naval Station, Guam.
By the end of the 1990s, Special Operations Command Pacific (SOCPAC), located at Camp H. M. Smith, Oahu, Hawaii served as a sub-unified command and special operations forces component command for the US Pacific Command (PACOM). The area of responsibility of the Commander in Chief, US Pacific Command (USCINCPAC) represented the largest geographic area of the unified commands. It covered over half of the earth's surface with over 105 million square miles and nearly 60 percent of the world's population. Distance, diversity, and change characterized the PACOM area of responsibility.
The Commander, SOCPAC exercised operational control of in-theater and augmenting special operations forces in the US Pacific Command area of operations. In addition, he served as the commander (designate) of Joint Task Force 510 (JTF-510), CINCPAC's crisis response force. He also served as a joint special operations task force Commander under a larger USCINCPAC joint task force, PACOM's Joint Force Special Operations Component Command.
SOCPAC and its component units could deploy throughout the Pacific to participate in joint exercises in support of USCINCPAC and designated joint task forces. SOCPAC also deployed unilaterally as JTF-510 and conducted numerous small unit exchanges with over 20 pacific nations in support of the USCINCPAC Theater Engagement Plan (TEP). The Commander of SOCPAC hosted the annual Pacific Area Special Operations Conference (PASOC) in Hawaii. The event included representation from 25 countries including 13 flag officers, 140 foreign delegates, and over 250 attendees. The Command's involvement in counterdrug operations includes Thailand, Laos, and the Philippines. In addition to humanitarian demining operations in Thailand and Laos, SOCPAC also supported contingency missions in Indonesia, East Timor, Vietnam, and the Republic of the Philippines.
Although the Asian-Pacific Rim experienced an economic slowdown in the 1980s, Asia's economic growth rate subsequently rose to twice that of the world as a whole. This growth increased competition for both natural resources and markets. Thirty-six percent of US merchandise trade was within the region and over 3 million American jobs were linked to Asian export markets. Sovereignty claims to areas such as the Spratly Islands also became important due to the resource potential of the surrounding seas. Economic growth fueled an expansion of military technologies and capabilities. The 6 largest armed forces in the world operated in the PACOM area of responsibility. Military capabilities in the region were increasingly modern due to technical development and economic growth. This enhanced military capability resulted in several nations possessing the capability to build and deliver weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Other regional nations also had the economic and technical sophistication to develop WMD capabilities on short notice, should they believe a threat existed.
The political challenges were also changing. Asian-Pacific nations were proud of their cultures and sensitive about issues of independence and sovereignty. These nations were strikingly diverse in size, population, culture, and history. The 43 nations, 20 territories, and 10 US territories represented 75 official languages and over 20 distinct religions. Security concerns and threats, such as the Korean peninsula, the Indo-Pakistani border, and Indonesia, remained USCINCPAC concerns. Local insurrection, territorial disputes, religious, and ethnic conflicts, and illegal drug trafficking had economic, political, and military implications for USCINCPAC and all theater service components, including SOCPAC.
USCINCPAC's strategy harmonized employment of military resources with the other elements of national power. This strategy recognized contributions made, both directly and indirectly, by military forces in shaping the international environment through activities that promote peace and stability. The strategy focused on continued military presence in the region, demonstrating US commitment, developing trust, and deterring aggressors. SOCPAC supported USCINCPAC's shaping strategy through operations such as demining activities, counterdrug operations, bilateral/multilateral exercises, Joint Combined Exchange Training (JCET) program activities, Pacific Situation Awareness Teams (PSATs), and the annual Pacific Area Special Operations Conference (PASOC). Engagement in the area of responsibility sought to demonstrate continued American intent and capability; reassure allies and friends; promote regional stability, cooperation and trust; deter potential regional aggressors; build force interoperability; and maintain access to host-nation support and facilities.
Landmines were a major area of focus in the PACOM area of responsibility and continued to inflict hundreds of civilian casualties per month. Additionally, the mine threat removed arable land from production and reduced the flow of commerce. Various factions laid these mines over the last 40 years. Special operations forces, in cooperation with the host nation and US government agencies, designed and managed a training program to improve mine awareness, detection and recovery, and the treatment of casualties. SOCPAC conducted 4 demining operations in Laos in 1998 and again in 1999. Additionally, 2 initial demining assessments were conducted in Thailand in 1999, with 4 demining operations scheduled during 2000. Other countries plagued by landmines were looking at ways to participate in the program.
Southeast Asia also remained one of the world's largest drug-producing areas. Special operations forces assisted host nations in improving their capability to deal with this significant problem. Specifically, special operations forces conducted training to improve planning, expertise, and small-unit tactics of host-nation military and law enforcement agencies to increase their ability to battle narco-criminals. Thailand and Malaysia were participating countries in 1999. Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, and Malaysia are scheduled participants during 2000. This training benefited both host nation and US forces as they shared techniques, sharpened skills, and improved operational effectiveness.
One of the cornerstones of the shaping element was the SOCPAC-managed JCET program. This program fulfills special operations forces training requirements and allowed the sharing of skills between special operations forces elements and their host-nation counterparts. These activities included airborne and air mobile patrolling, lifesaving, reconnaissance, and small-unit tactics. JCET activities improved special operations forces and host nation capabilities, and also demonstrated USCINCPAC's commitment to constructive engagement.
In addition, humanitarian and civic action projects, done in conjunction with JCET events, provided tangible benefits for the host-nation civilian population. During 1999, SOCPAC conducted 37 JCET events in 12 countries. Participants included in-theater and CONUS units from both active and reserve components. USCINCPAC used this corner-stone program for initial military-to-military contact, annually demonstrated through presence in some of the smaller countries, and as part of an ongoing military program in many of the larger nations.
USCINCPAC also deployed its Pacific Situation Assessment Team (PSAT), consisting of SOCPAC personnel, during 1998 and 1999. PSAT enhanced coordination between USCINCPAC and the US Chief of Mission's country team by providing on-site advice regarding the suitability and feasibility of the application of military forces and resources in support of US government responses to crisis situations.
The annual PASOC was another forum that supported USCINCPAC's theater engagement program. This week-long conference, comprising over 200 delegates, including 26 flag officers from 22 countries, provided USCINCPAC and COMSOCPAC with an "azimuth check" for US peacetime engagement. In addition, PASOC provided a unique opportunity to develop, in a multilateral setting, senior foreign military contacts that helped facilitate the conduct of future exercises, crisis response, and other operations within the PACOM area of responsibility.
In early March 2001, SOCPAC established the Joint Special Operations Aviation Component on Oahu, Hawaii. Three months later, on 11 June 2001, SOCPAC gained operational control over E Company, 160th Special Operations Regiment (Airborne), which was based in Taegu, Republic of Korea. This unit was under the tactical, day-to-day control of Special Operations Command, Korea.
Following the events of 11 September 2001, PACOM joined the rest of the US military in directing immediate responses to terrorist activities within its area of responsibility and in support of operations in the areas of responsibility of other unified commands. In January 2002, JTF-510 deployed to the Philippines as part of Operation Freedom Eagle. In September 2001, JTF-510 deployed, but units previously assigned to it remained in the Philippines to form the nucleus of Joint Special Operations Task Force - Philippines (JSOTF-P), which continued to operate in the country in support of Operation Enduring Freedom - Philippines.
SOCPAC's assigned forces as of 2007 consisted of one Army Special Forces Battalion (1/1st Special Forces Group (Airborne), one Naval Special Warfare Unit (Naval Special Warfare Unit One), and one Air Force Special Operations Group (353rd Special Operations Group), which included 2 Air Force Special Operations Squadrons and one Air Force Special Tactics Squadron. Additionally, SOCPAC maintained a Joint Special Operations Air Component (JSOAC) in Hawaii and a forward-based Joint Special Operations Air Detachment (JSOAD) in the Philippines.
In 2009, the US Army's Company E, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne), under the operational control of SOCPAC, was inactivated and reflagged as an element of 4th Battalion, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne). Though no longer forward deployed to Korea, 4th Battalion, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment was focused toward operations in the Pacific region and elements continued to coordinate closely with both SOCPAC and SOCKOR.
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