What’s Missing in ARSOF Logistics?
By Colonel Jorge E. Rodriguez
The logistics problems of Army Special Operations Forces in Operation Enduring Freedom indicate that a reorganization of the support structure is needed.
The Global War on Terrorism has changed the way Army Special Operations Forces (ARSOF) deploy, fight, and are supported. Following the Vietnam War, ARSOF focused their operations at the team level, and their logistics requirements, or “logistics tail,” were minimal. However, that operational posture began to change on 11 September 2001. Even as the President announced that the United States was beginning a Global War on Terrorism, an entire Army Special Forces group was preparing to deploy to central Asia. Not since Vietnam had such a large number of Green Berets deployed to such a concentrated area of operations.
However, because of the small number of support personnel assigned to its organic support company, the deploying Special Forces group was unable to support itself logistically. Instead, the ARSOF turned to the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) to task its intheater executive agent to provide the base operations support and direct support needed to sustain the more than 3,000 ARSOF personnel in the area of operations. The requirement to support a Special Forces group put an unsupportable strain on an executive agent that did not have any logistics infrastructure in place in the theater. As a result, the executive agent scrambled to request the deployment of a limited Active-duty logistics force structure. This process proved to be too slow to be of benefit. To provide immediate life support to the group, the Army Special Operations Command deployed the limited logistics assets from its organic Special Operations Support Command (SOSCOM). (See the chart on page 8 for SOSCOM’s current organization.)
Although transformation of the Army’s conventional support structures is well underway, the deficiency of support within the ARSOF community, as demonstrated by the problems of the deploying Special Forces group, is not being addressed. This deficiency was not wholly apparent until Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, with its extensive use of large numbers of ARSOF. Throughout Enduring Freedom, ARSOF have struggled with an inability to execute logistics at the same level as operations. The Global War on Terrorism will be a lengthy campaign, and it is setting a precedent for the employment of ARSOF. ARSOF personnel likely will be deployed in large numbers in many future operations, and they often may be the main military effort. Given this new reality, the logistics support structure for ARSOF must be transformed to sustain increased operations.
In view of the ARSOF’s prominent role in the Global War on Terrorism, why don’t the 15,000 soldiers in the ARSOF have a more robust organic logistics force structure? Why is the premier light infantry force in the world, the U.S. Army’s Rangers, the only infantry unit in the Army without an adequate support unit? These questions spotlight the issue of how best to support ARSOF. The answer is creation of a definitive, habitual structure to support ARSOF operations.
The only thing harder than getting a new idea into the military mind is to get an old one out.
—B.H. Liddell Hart
ARSOF Support Structure
In contrast to the Army’s conventional forces, the ARSOF logistics structure is severely under what is needed. A light division with roughly 10,000 troops has approximately 1,500 support personnel. A heavy division with 15,000 to 17,000 troops has a support structure of about 3,300 personnel. In comparison, the ARSOF have a total of over 15,000 operators but only 416 personnel providing combat service support and health service support.
SOSCOM has only one support battalion, the 528th Special Operations Support Battalion. The 528th is organized into two forward support companies and one headquarters main support company. However, these three companies, with a total of roughly 400 soldiers, are tasked with supporting the entire ARSOF force structure as well as augmenting support for classified operations. Though habitual support is typical in conventional brigades and regiments, there is no dedicated support battalion for the 75th Ranger Regiment or the Special Forces groups. SOSCOM, a nondeployable table of distribution and allowances organization, lacks an adequate structure to plan, coordinate, and command logistics support for large-scale ARSOF operations.
Some critics may suggest that ARSOF can be supported through conventional units. Though conventional support units may fill the gaps, they do not have that habitual support relationship with ARSOF that is so cherished by forward support battalions and warfighting brigades in a division. Given the nature of ARSOF operations and the unique nature of their equipment, a dedicated organization accustomed to supporting ARSOF is of paramount importance. The habitual relationship the 528th has with ARSOF is valued by operators, but one support battalion cannot provide all of the support for an organization as large as the ARSOF.
Enduring Freedom Logistics Problems
At the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom, the 528th Special Operations Support Battalion already had a contingent deployed for the Early Victor exercise. It subsequently deployed a tailored package to sustain the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) in Uzbekistan. However, the ARSOF’s limited support assets required the 528th’s contingent to be relieved in place by a conventional support unit after only a few months. Concurrent operations, coupled with future operational requirements, strained the 528th’s capabilities.
The CENTCOM executive agent was charged with providing base operating support and logistics for ARSOF in theater. However, the coordination and provision of this support was sketchy at best. The executive agent was focused on providing “big picture” support in an austere theater and was not able to accommodate ARSOF requirements. The result was a lack of logistics support to ARSOF personnel.
Fixing the Problems
An ARSOF direct support logistics structure with a deployable headquarters would have been invaluable in planning and coordinating base operating support for ARSOF, as well as in planning and managing ARSOF combat service support and health service support. This would have reduced the burden on the Special Operations Command within CENTCOM by allowing it to remain focused on daily operations. A deployable ARSOF logistics headquarters would have augmented existing Special Operations theater support elements (SOTSEs) and provided the required logistics command and control to ARSOF units in either a mature or an immature theater. This deployable headquarters also would have served as the logistics integration point with nondivisional support units.
The addition of a movement control center and a medical operations center in the SOSCOM structure would have minimized several difficulties ARSOF experienced in Enduring Freedom. Mission-critical supplies and aircraft repair parts were routinely lost or frustrated in transportation hubs. This ultimately affected ARSOF operational capabilities, which created a serious warfighting issue since ARSOF were the major combat force. A dedicated, deployable movement control center to plan and coordinate intratheater movement requirements with the geographical combatant command’s staff would have ensured that critical resupply was moving through the transportation pipeline.
The SOSCOM’s current organizational structure also lacks a medical operations center. A medical operations center would have served as the SOSCOM’s focal point for planning health service support and coordinating the evacuation of patients. It also would have served as the interface between the SOSCOM’s limited medical capabilities and corps medical assets in the theater. A small medical operations center to serve in this capacity would have been invaluable because no level III medical care exists in the ARSOF force structure. [Level III care is lifesaving surgery and resuscitative care.] This deficiency could be critical in the future for ARSOF units that arrive before conventional forces in an undeveloped theater without a medical infrastructure.
Reorganizing ARSOF Logistics
A possible solution to ARSOF support problems is shown in the chart below. Under this SOSCOM reorganization, all elements are deployable. This means that fragments of the SOSCOM staff, materiel management center, movement control center, and medical operations center can form the framework of a SOSCOM forward command post that can conduct planning and command and control for ARSOF logistics.
In this scheme, the 75th Ranger Regiment has a direct support battalion composed of three forward support companies, which will allow a Ranger battalion task force to have a dedicated support company. Likewise, the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment has a dedicated support battalion. The regiment’s support battalion most likely would be broken into separate support companies for each of the 160th’s battalions since those battalions normally operate independently. This support battalion could fall under the SOSCOM organization or directly under the 160th. Each Special Forces group also has a direct support battalion broken down into forward support companies that are aligned with each battalion in the group. The remaining support battalion within SOSCOM would provide direct support to other ARSOF units, such as civil affairs and psychological operations forces, and backup support to the Ranger and Special Forces support battalions. This SOSCOM organization can tailor combat service support force packages to support any or all ARSOF missions.
This proposal offers the ARSOF support capabilities similar to those seen in conventional force structures. It may be difficult to resource additional force structure at a time when the Army is focused on transition. However, ARSOF will continue to play a fundamental role in the Global War on Terrorism. To support a robust deployment of ARSOF, there must be dedicated support forces focused on providing world-class support to ARSOF. If ARSOF are the military’s best, then they must be resourced properly to provide the support they require. ALOG
Colonel Jorge E. Rodriguez is the operations officer, J–4, at the U.S. Special Operations Command at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida. He has a B.S. degree in international relations from Stetson University and an M.S. degree in strategic studies from the Air University and is a graduate of the Quartermaster Officer Basic and Advanced Courses, the Air War College, and the Army School of the Americas.