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New command transforms European SOF

02nd March 2017 - 10:00 by Andrew White in London

On 16 February, three NATO members signed an agreement which could have significant implications for the command and control (C2) structures of the international special operations community.

Gathering in Brussels during a meeting of NATO ministers of defence, government representatives from Belgium, Denmark and the Netherlands signed a letter of intent (LOI) to establish a Composite Special Operations Component Command (C-SOCC).

This new organisation is designed to combine the capabilities of the country's various SOF elements under a single unified command structure.

According to NATO's official announcement, the C-SOCC will be developed in line with NATO doctrine and standards, 'leveraging' expertise from the alliance's NATO Special Operations Headquarters (NSHQ), located in Mons, Belgium.

'This multinational command will be able to lead and coordinate special operations forces task groups within a small joint operation scenario,' officials explained after the signature of the LOI, with NATO Deputy Secretary General Rose Gottemoeller describing the agreement as 'timely and valuable'.

'This tri-national effort reflects the reality that special operations forces today operate increasingly in a multinational context. The ability to command our special forces effectively is as important as the forces themselves and NATO has made it a priority,' Gottemoeller claimed.

However, the C-SOCC will not be restricted to supporting NATO operations with officials explaining to Shephard how the various force elements from across the command will also be deployed to support UN 'and other multinational' missions globally.

The news follows a memorandum of understanding, signed on 17 September 2016, by Croatia, Bulgaria, Hungary and Slovenia to create a Multinational Special Operations Aviation Training Solution, seeking to extend cooperation and future opportunities in the creation of a special operations aviation unit supporting its various SOF elements.

The significance of the agreement cannot be understated as it represents the first time multiple international SOF component commands have collectively joined forces at a command level.

Defence sources suggest the move could initiate a series of similar strategic agreements elsewhere within and out of the alliance as governments seek to reduce costs in a fiscally constrained environment.

This transregional threat simply does not fit in with the existing paradigm and must be countered with a networked approach.
Gen Tony Thomas

In May 2016, the commander of the US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), Gen Tony Thomas hinted at a similar concept while addressing delegates at the Special Operations Forces Industry Conference (SOFIC) in Tampa, Florida.

'The demand on the network of SOF has grown over the past 15 years to transcend borders and politics,' he explained. 'This transregional threat simply does not fit in with the existing paradigm and must be countered with a networked approach.'

Thomas said the establishment of a SOF Global Combatant Command provided USSOCOM and international partners with a 'unique capability to synchronise planning and effects against violent extremist organisations'.

'Collective actions in international and interagency partners remain consistent with the way [SOF] does business and this is a model we can replicate across the globe,' he suggested while referring to a more agile operational framework.

The various SOF component commands of Belgium, Denmark and the Netherlands remain highly active across the contemporary operating environment, particularly in support of NATO and UN campaigns.

However, the agreement to combine resources will significantly enhance the capabilities of the three countries.

Force elements involved in the development of the C-SOCC are expected to include Belgium's Special Forces Group; Denmark's Jaegercorps and Frogman Corps; as well as the Netherlands Army's Special Forces Regiment (KCT) and Maritime Special Operations Force (NL MARSOF).

Of the three countries, only Denmark currently lacks any type of centralised special operations command within their own force structures, such as those currently employed by USSOCOM and the Directorate of UK Special Forces, which both feature a single C2 spine with operational control of multiple force elements.

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