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Research Questions

  1. What are the best ways to implement the networking vision?
  2. Will changes be needed for command and control arrangements or for Department of Defense funding and budgeting processes?

The January 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance calls for small-footprint, low-cost approaches where possible in ensuring U.S. security in a 21st-century world of transnational threats. In response, U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) has developed and put forth its Global SOF Network vision, which calls for a distributed overseas posture for Special Operations Forces (SOF) as part of a new approach based on creating a structure that responds more effectively to emerging threats and deters future ones. USSOCOM posits that increasing SOF forward presence and creating these networks will deepen existing partnerships as well as provide new ones. This, in turn, will provide greater insight regarding conditions on the ground, shape the environment more effectively, and better enable local SOF partners to meet security threats. Building and employing a global SOF network and strengthening partners forms the core of the Global SOF Network vision. USSOCOM asked RAND to develop options for implementing the vision by creating and then applying an analytically rigorous methodology, and to investigate whether changes to command and control arrangements or Department of Defense funding and budgeting processes might be needed for its effective execution.

Key Findings

Global SOF Network Vision Has Three Components

  • RAND conducted research and analysis on each of the main components of the Global SOF Network vision: small footprints and low-level presence, greater responsiveness, and regional capacity-building.
  • For each component, RAND developed sets of options ordered by priority that identify a range of nested reasonable solutions to consider at varying resourcing levels.

Small Footprints and Low-Level Presence

  • Liaison: One or two individuals embedded in embassy teams or partner nation organizations interact with partner-nation forces or serve as the primary in-country point of SOF contact.
  • Small-Scale Building Partner Capacity: Small, multifunctional teams of up to 12 personnel are organized for a specific task but can facilitate larger efforts and undertake physical infrastructure development.
  • Shaping and Surveillance: Focus on adversaries entails an enduring presence of approximately 12 personnel to support human infrastructure development of U.S. partners and to prepare the environment to support U.S. goals and operations.


  • Robust high-priority coverage: SOF has the ability to respond in highest-priority regions from at least two forward facilities, but less-important areas receive minimal coverage.
  • Additional coverage for moderate priority areas would add more robust coverage in moderate-priority areas to the first option.
  • Adding forward operating sites would add new forward operating sites in targeted priority areas to increase robustness to the second option.


  • Institutionalized venues would foster and enable regional contacts.
  • Strength and extent of ties to all countries within the region must be considered.
  • Membership attractiveness should focus on U.S. interests in a given region.
  • Geographic attractiveness is also a consideration.


  • In terms of capacity-building, two regional centers are recommended for the Western Hemisphere.
  • Establishing one center focused on the Association for Southeast Asian Nations and including substantial membership from states outside Southeast Asia is currently the best option.
  • Eventually, establishing three RSCCs would be the preferred option in Africa: one in northern Africa for the Sahel and the Horn, another in western Africa, and a third in south and eastern Africa. A northern African RSCC is most problematic.

This research was sponsored by the United States Special Operations Command and conducted within the International Security and Defense Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

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