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Army Special Operations Aviation operates under varied command and control relationships. The mission requirements and the commander at each level of command dictate the exact relationship. This chapter discusses command and control of ARSOA from the combatant commander to the joint special operations task force. Several generic command options are provided to help the combatant commander determine the best method to meet theater requirements.


Special operations forces require an abbreviated, well-defined command structure because of mission sensitivity and significance. Operational layers above regiment are always joint, and direct coordination with other agencies and units is frequently necessary. Excessive or indirect layers reduce responsiveness and make operational security more difficult. Therefore, any command arrangement for SO must reduce changes in operational control between commanders and reduce layering as much as possible. However, direct liaison between supported and supporting organizations is standard procedure and is encouraged.


A unified command is a command with a broad continuing mission. It operates under a single commander and is composed of two or more services. The unified command is established and designated by the President, through the Secretary of Defense, and operates on the advice and assistance of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. When a unified command is authorized by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, it is established by a commander of an existing unified command.

a. Combatant Commands. The combatant command CINC communicates through the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, to the NCA. The CINC conducts the actual military operations in his area of responsibility. Combatant commands are either unified or specified. A unified combatant command is composed of forces from two or more military services. A specified combatant command is composed of significant forces from only one military service. Unified commands may be regional or functional.

(1) Regional combatant commands have geographical areas of responsibility assigned by the unified command plan. They conduct the strategic direction of all US military operations within their designated AOR. The five regional unified commands are the--

  • United States Atlantic Command.

  • United States Central Command.

  • United States European Command.

  • United States Pacific Command.

  • United States Southern Command.

(2) Functional or global commands have worldwide functional responsibilities not bound by geographical AORs. The four functional combatant commands are the--

  • United States Space Command.

  • United States Special Operations Command.

  • United States Transportation Command.

  • United States Strategic Command.

(3) Although specified combatant commands are composed of significant forces from only one military service, they may, include units and staffs from other services. A specified CINC has the same authority and responsibilities as the other CINCs, except he cannot establish subordinate unified commands. The only specified combatant command is the US Army Forces Command.

b. Command Authority.

(1) The commanders in chief of the combatant commands exercise combatant command and obtain support from other commanders in chief and the services. Combatant command is the command authority vested in the CINCs by public law. Only the CINC has COCOM authority and this authority cannot be transferred. COCOM is the authority to perform functions of command over assigned forces. This authority involves organizing and employing commands and forces, assigning tasks, and designating objectives. It also involves giving authoritative direction over all aspects of military operations, joint training, and logistics that are necessary to complete the mission. When exercising the authority of organizing his commands and forces, the CINC prescribes the chain of command within his command. The CINC exercises COCOM through a combination of--

  • Subordinate unified commanders.

  • Service component commanders.

  • Functional component commanders.

  • Commanders of single-service forces.

  • Commanders of joint task forces.

(2) The CINC delegates an appropriate level of authority to these subordinate commanders. He concerns himself with broad operational matters. Responsibilities for administration and support remain with the service components. However, the CINC's directive authority for logistics allows him to issue directives to subordinate commanders. This includes issuing peacetime measures that are necessary to complete the mission. Figure 2-1 shows the regional combatant command structure.

Figure 2-1. Regional combatant command structure


a. United States Special Operations Command. All CONUSbased SOF are assigned to USSOCOM. These forces include designated Army psychological and civil affairs forces. The USCINCSOC is a functional combatant commander who exercises COCOM over the CONUS forces. Operational control of those forces is exercised through subordinate joint force commanders, service component commands, or functional component commands. As a supporting commander, the USCINCSOC usually provides forces to commanders of the regional unified command. Commanders of the regional unified commands exercise COCOM over those forces. The USCINCSOC may, however, be directed to plan and conduct an SO unilaterally or as a supported commander. In this situation, the USCINCSOC normally employs a task-organized JSOTF to plan, rehearse, and execute the operation regardless of its geographic location.

(1) The Army component of USSOCOM is the US Army Special Operations Command. As a major Army command, the USASOC commands, supports, and ensures the combat readiness of assigned and attached Army forces. USASOC exercises command of CONUS-based active Army and Army Reserve SOF (Figure 2-2).

Figure 2-2. US Army Special Operations Command

(2) When directed to do so, USASOC provides mission-ready ARSOA to the regional CINCs for employment under their COCOM. These forces are normally in the form of a task force tailored for the specific assigned mission.

b. Regional Unified Commands. Theater-based SOF are normally placed under the COCOM of the regional unified commander. The regional CINC may exercise permanent COCOM (OPCON if attached) through a subunified special operations command, other subordinate unified, joint task force, or service or functional component commands (Figure 2-3).

Figure 2-3. JSOTF command structure

c. Special Operations Command. All regional unified commands have established a subunified SOC. Normally, the SOC is assigned broad continuing missions. These commands are also assigned areas of responsibility that are suited to the capabilities of the SOF and are strategically and operationally important to the CINC.

d. Joint Forces Special Operations Component Commander. JFSOCC is a generic term applied to the senior SO commander in a joint organization. At the unified command and/or JFC level, the senior SO commander is typically the SOC commander. A joint task force may have a JSOTF. Its commander also would be a JFSOCC. The JFSOCC advises the joint commander on the proper employment of SOF and plans, coordinates, and accomplishes assigned operational missions.

(1) The joint commander gives the JFSOCC the authority to accomplish assigned missions and tasks. There are significant differences between a subunified commander and a functional component commander. These differences exist mainly in the area of logistics and in the authority to establish task forces. A CINC establishes a subunified command such as a SOC. A subunified command conducts operations on a continuing basis. Its commander has functions, authority, and responsibilities similar to those of the CINC. A CINC or a subordinate unified commander can establish a functional component commander. The functional commander exercises OPCON over assigned and attached forces. He also makes recommendations to the establishing commander on the proper employment of assigned forces. He is responsible for accomplishing any operational missions that may be assigned. A CINC or the commander of a subordinate unified command or an existing joint task force establishes another JTF. A joint task force's mission has specific, limited objectives.

(2) The JFSOCC normally exercises OPCON of service SOF through service or functional component commanders or some combination. Normally, the Army provides a designated Army component commander, either a single Army special operations command or one or more Army special operations task forces. Likewise, the Air Force task-organizes its elements under a single commander and provides an Air Force special operations command as the Air Force service component to the SOC.

e. Other Functional Component Commanders. Sometimes a functional organization may better fit the needs of the SOF mission. For example, several SOF service elements have similar aviation capabilities. These aviation SOF should be aligned under a single functional joint special operations air component commander. This allows the JSOACC to establish a series of aviation task organizations of various sizes. These aviation task organizations are assigned to a JSOTF or to other subordinate SO commands. To provide the best asset available, all JFSOCC requirements for air support flow through a single point of contact. In addition, planning, coordination, and deconfliction are centralized and liaison is simplified. The JFSOCC will normally designate as the JSOACC the service that provides most of the aviation force or the service component commander who can best conduct, command, and control operations in the given environment.

f. Service Component Commanders. A CINC could exercise OPCON of assigned SOF directly through service component commanders. However, that normally is not done because of the inherent joint aspects of SO, the extensive joint training and exercises that the various services SOF accomplish in peacetime, and the varied aspects of employing SOF. A single theater SOC and a subordinate JSOACC provide a more focused and experienced command arrangement.

g. Joint Special Operations Task Force. Special operations generally require joint SOF. Operational control of the joint SOF is often exercised through a JSOTF. A JSOTF is organized like conventional JTFs. It is normally developed for a specific So mission or a campaign of limited duration. It is an organization of flexible size and composition. Depending upon the objective and task, the JSOTF may be small and temporary or larger and more enduring. FM 100-25 contains a more detailed description of possible JSOTF command relationships.

(1) An existing theater SOC component might be directed to form the core of a JSOTF when most of the force comes from that component. In such a case, the component headquarters would be augmented by appropriate forces from other services and components to form the task force headquarters. Operational control of the JSOTF could be passed to the theater service component that requires support, passed to a subunified command, or exercised by the SOC. Or, the CINC could control the JSOTF.

(2) A regional unified commander may form a JTF for a specific mission or for regional operations. A JSOTF may be formed subordinate to that JTF commander to plan and execute those special operations required to support the non-SO efforts of the JTF.

(3) In either situation, a component or task force commander could exercise operational control over SOF that are mainly from another service. Commanders at all levels must ensure that SOF are employed within existing capabilities and that support arrangements allow for SOF-peculiar requirements.


a. Most ARSOA forces are assigned to the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne). When tasked, the regiment will form a tailored task force to accomplish the assigned mission.

b. Once formed, the ARSOA task force will deploy into the theater, then COCOM will transfer from USCINCSOC to the regional unified commander. Operational control may then be passed to either the SOC or the joint task force. The SOC or JTF may--

  • Keep direct operational control of the ARSOA TF (SOC only).

  • Pass operational control of the ARSOA TF to a subordinate JSOTF commander.

  • Pass operational control of the ARSOA TF to a functional JSOACC.

  • Pass operational control of the ARSOA TF to the supported ARSOTF commander, thereby establishing a single-service combined arms TF.

  • Attach the ARSOA TF to the supported ARSOTF commander. The ARSOTF commander then exercises full command instead of operational control.


a. ARSOA will generally be a part of an ARSOTF or a JSOTF. Therefore, its relationship with the theater Army will be primarily for support through the theater Army special operations support command or other appropriate support arrangements.

b. The theater Army is normally the Army component command of a unified command. Regardless of the OPCON arrangements within the unified command, the TA remains responsible for certain service-specific functions. Those that apply to the SOA in particular include--

  • Informing the CINC of support and sustainment decisions and changes that affect his operational capability or sustainability.

  • Conducting joint training as directed.

  • Developing programs and budget requests that comply with CINC guidance on operational requirements and priorities.

  • Informing the CINC of programs and budget decisions and changes that affect operational and contingency planning.

  • Providing supporting plans with the necessary force data to support missions assigned by the CINC.

  • Providing administrative and UCMJ support, service training, logistical, and intelligence functions within the unified command.

  • Appointing the ARSOA task force commander as the JSOACC.


a. Airspace control during operations other than war generally centers around host-nation air traffic regulation and control of civil and host-nation military airspace users. (See Appendix C, FM 100-103.) Operations other than war include foreign internal defense, peacekeeping operations, terrorism counteraction, and peacetime contingency operations. The potential exists for AROSA to support any of these operations as part of a JSOTF or as part of an ARSOF task force. The presence and number of other US forces in theater usually determine the way that airspace is deconflicted. These factors also determine who has overall responsibility for airspace deconfliction.

b. Usually, the ARSOA unit is employed under OPCON of a JSOTF, but it could be under OPCON of the ARSOF commander in direct support of FID or peacekeeping operations. When the ARSOA unit is under OPCON of the ARSOF commander, the ARSOA commander is responsible for gaining airspace approval from the host nation and for deconflicting his element's use of host-nation airspace. Airspace deconfliction becomes more complicated when the AROSA unit is under OPCON of a JSOTF. If no other US forces are in theater, the JSOTF must be responsible for gaining airspace approval from the host nation and for deconflicting airspace between all JSOTF units.

c. Host-nation airspace used by the host nation's civil airspace users and military aircraft, artillery, and air defense must be conflicted at the joint force headquarters or JSOTF. Host-nation airspace used by US military aircraft and other JSOTF elements also must be conflicted at the joint force headquarters or JSOTF. Officials of the host nation normally approve the use of their airspace by US military aircraft based on agreements made by the state department.

d. The JSOTF should be responsible for all airspace coordination when other JSOTF units require the use of host-nation airspace. The JSOAC should not be tasked with this duty. When other JSOTF units require access to host-nation airspace, the JSOTF is the most logical place to obtain both deconfliction and airspace approval. In this case, the JSOACC passes the airspace requests to the JSOTF for coordination and host-nation approval.

e. Airspace used by other JSOTF ground forces (US military and CAS in support of SOF) and JSOACC aircraft must be deconflicted at the JSOTF level. The JSOACC will not understand the importance nor the priority of ground force airspace use and how that priority coincides with the overall campaign plan. When JSOTF priority of airspace use competes with host-nation use, the JSOTF will be in a better position to judge JSOTF priority and negotiate use of the airspace with the host nation. The JSOACC is not equipped to perform these functions.

f. When US conventional forces are in place before the JSOTF arrives, airspace deconfliction occurs at the TACP according to doctrine. The AC and LCC will be designated to accomplish the airspace management function. The JSOACC is responsible for clearing flights into and out of airspace managed by the AC through the established TACP. All host-nation airspace will be coordinated with the host nation through the conventional ACC that supports ground operations during operations other than war. In most cases, the LCC will own the airspace over his area of operation. The theater TACP will coordinate the use of this airspace through the JSOTF.

g. The number and type of airspace users will determine the best method of airspace management and should also dictate who has overall responsible for deconflicting airspace with the host nation. Conditions in the host nation and the mission of the JSOTF will also help determine where airspace deconfliction should occur. In some cases, the host nation may require days of advance notice before the airspace is used. The JSOTF, ARSOF, and ARSOA must know in advance what methods of control are in place and where and how airspace is deconflicted with the host nation.

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