Special Operations Forces:

Force Structure and Readiness Issues

NSIAD-94-105: Published: Mar 24, 1994. Publicly Released: Mar 29, 1994.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed how the Special Operations Command determines its force levels and the readiness of its special operations forces.

GAO found that: (1) the Command has not substantially changed its force structure since 1988; (2) the Command determines its future force structure requirements by analyzing its wartime and peacetime needs; (3) nearly 50 percent of the Command's planned force structure is needed to meet peacetime requirements including peacekeeping, peacemaking, and humanitarian assistance; (4) there has only been a slight improvement in the readiness of the Command's special operations forces; (5) shortages of equipment and specialty personnel in active and reserve forces have been primary causes for the lack of significant combat readiness improvements; (6) although the Status of Resources and Training System is used to measure combat readiness, the Command believes that the system does not adequately reflect the capabilities and interoperability of its forces; and (7) the Department of Defense could increase the resources available and improve the readiness of special operations forces by using Air Force and Army special operations units for conventional combat search and rescue operations, and special operations funds to maintain excess reserve forces and expenses that are not unique to special operations.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOD is satisfied that European search and rescue duties are most efficiently handled by SOF units during peacetime. Wartime requirements, on the other hand, would be met primarily by Air Force units. This recommendation should not remain open because the Air Force is unlikely to redistribute recovery units from other theaters in peacetime.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Air Force to develop a plan that meets the combatant commander's requirements for combat search and rescue in Europe with the least impact on special operations assets.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In February 1994, DOD notified Congress that various Special Operations Forces units were to be inactivated.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should notify Congress of its plans to eliminate reserve forces the Command has deemed to be excess.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Reserve SEAL positions will not be deactivated because DOD believes that these positions are necessary for the administration of SEAL teams and could be called upon in an emergency.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should eliminate reserve Sea-Air-Land (SEAL) forces that would be excess if the Special Operations Command receives additional active SEAL training positions.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  4. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOD contends that allowing each service to determine what is or is not SOF-peculiar is the most practical means of defining SOF-peculiar.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Special Operations Command and the military services to consistently use and apply the agreed-upon definition of items and services peculiar to special operations from Joint Publication 3-05.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense


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