Special operations capable

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Special operations capable (SOC) is a concept and designation developed by the United States Marine Corps and United States Navy concerning select special operations capabilities of Marine Expeditionary Units (MEU).

A four-man team of Force Reconnaissance Marines simulate infiltrating a beachhead. Force Reconnaissance Marines are one of the elements of the United States Marine Corps special operations capable forces

The SOC designation is currently only utilized to indicate that a MEU is capable of undertaking certain special operations. Properly trained and certified MEUs are known as MEU(SOC). MEU(SOC) units are not generally considered to be special operations forces (SOF) proper, despite being capable of some of the same missions and tasks associated with SOF units. While originally representing the Marine Corps’ contribution to the United States’ special operations forces, with the introduction of the Marine Special Operations Command (MARSOC) to the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) command structure in 2006, SOC units now instead bridge the gap between ‘conventional’ units and SOF units.

SOC units do not fall under USSOCOM, as most US SOF units do, including MARSOC units, and instead are controlled solely by the Marine Corps. The use of the term has been limited to the United States Marine Corps and Navy, and in practice, only the Marine Corps currently utilizes the designation, although the term may be unofficially utilized both within the US and internationally to describe certain units.

The strategy behind the MEU(SOC) is to provide continuous and perpetual maritime & amphibious force projection. Such units are expected to be able to respond to a variety of crises, most notably incidents that conventional units may not be able to properly handle. A MEU(SOC) is also expected to be capable of providing various forms of security or a military presence to any region worldwide, within 24–72 hours of receiving orders. Such crises may range from natural disasters to civil or national discord, or total invasion of forces into a hostile area. The term "special operations" in the Non-SOF context, therefore, refers to special taskings of limited duration in support of a combat commander.[1] These operations include:

  • Amphibious raids
  • Non-combatant evacuation operations (NEO)
  • Security operations
  • Tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel (TRAP)
  • Direct action
  • Humanitarian/civic assistance[1]

Therefore, "the primary objective of the MEU(SOC)...is to provide the theater CINC's with an effective means of dealing with the uncertainties of future threats, providing a forward deployed unit that is inherently balanced, sustainable, flexible, responsive, expandable and credible."[1]

Special operations capable (SOC) Marine expeditionary unitsEdit

Each Marine expeditionary force (MEF) has MEUs. When specifically trained and operationally qualified to perform special operational duties, they are then known as a Marine expeditionary units (special operations capable), or MEU (SOC); designed under the battle plans of combined maritime-based ground and air elements that make up a MAGTF.[2]

Conventional operationsEdit

Beyond those conventional missions assigned to a MEU, the specialized units within the Marine Corps's special operations capable community are able to perform the following capabilities assigned:[2]

  • Battle area ingress/egress: enter and exit a battle area.
  • Locate and fix the enemy: involves finding and identifying enemy forces, maintaining surveillance once located, assessing the capabilities and intentions, and reporting those findings.
  • Engage the enemy: engage, destroy, or capture the enemy in a rural or urban setting, in hostile environments, with minimized/controlled collateral damage.
  • Rapid staff planning: the capability to rapidly plan and be prepared to commence execution of operations within six (6) hours of receipt of the warning order/alert order. Commencement of operations is signified by the launch of forces by air and/or surface means. This may range from the insertion of reconnaissance and surveillance assets in support of the mission to the actual launch of an assault force. Rapid staff planning is a key to MEU(SOC)s overall operational success.
  • Joint force interoperability: the MEU will normally be committed in conjunction with joint or combined task force (J/CTF) operations. Joint/combined force interoperability is a shared responsibility of the force commander and subordinate elements. Interoperability depends on compatible C4I equipment and standardized procedures while embracing common terminology and techniques. The objective is a thorough understanding of mutual command and control procedures, capabilities, and limitations developed through continual participation in joint and combined exercises.
  • Amphibious raids: conduct amphibious raids via air and/or surface means from extended ranges in order to inflict loss or damage upon opposing forces, create diversions, capture and/or evacuate individuals and material by swift incursion into an objective area followed by a planned withdrawal. The amphibious raid is the primary operational focus for the forward-operating MEU(SOC)s.
  • Limited-objective attacks: assaults based on limited force.
  • Non-combatant evacuation operations (NEO): conduct NEO by evacuating and protecting noncombatants in either a permissive or non-permissive environment. This capability includes the requirement to provide a security force, evacuation control center, recovery force, medical support, and transportation of evacuees.
  • Show of force operations: engage in show of force operations, to include amphibious demonstrations, presence of forces, or flyovers in support of U.S. interests.
  • Reinforcement operations: reinforce U.S. (or designated Allied/friendly) forces by helicopter and/or surface means. This includes the capability to conduct relief-in-place or a passage of lines.
  • Maritime security operations: conduct security operations to protect U.S. (or designated Allied/ friendly nation) property and noncombatants in maritime areas. Forward-operating MEU(SOC)s will be capable of establishing an integrated local security perimeter, screening for explosive devices, and providing personal protection to designated individuals.
  • Mobile training teams (MTT): provide training to assigned individuals, groups, or units.
  • Civil–military operationsHumanitarian/civil assistance in disaster relief: provide services such as medical and dental care, minor construction repair to civilian facilities, temporary assistance to local government, and assistance to counter the devastation caused by a manmade or natural disaster.
  • Tactical deception operations: design and implement tactical deception operations plans in order to deceive the enemy through electronic means, feints, demonstrations, and ruses which cause the enemy to react or fail to react in a manner which assists in the accomplishment of the overall mission.
  • Fire support control: control and coordinate naval surface fire, air support and ground fire support coordination measures for U.S. or designated Allied/friendly forces.
  • Counter-intelligence operations: conduct counterintelligence and human intelligence operations that protect the MEU(SOC) against espionage, sabotage, terrorism, and subversion by developing and providing information the commander can use to undertake countermeasures to protect his resources.
  • Initial terminal guidance (ITG): establish and operate navigational, signal, and/or electronic devices for guiding helicopter and surface waves from a designated point to a landing zone or beach.
  • Electronic warfare/signals intelligence: conduct tactical SIGINT, limited ground bases EW, and communications security (COMSEC) monitoring and analysis in direct support of the MAGTF. This is accomplished by employing organic collection and direction finding (DF) equipment as well as through connectivity to national and theater SIGINT/EW assets.
  • Military operations in urban terrain (MOUT): conduct military operations in a built-up area.

MEU-special operationsEdit

The Marine Corps does not deploy traditional special operations forces (SOF); the Marine Corps's special operations contribution, the Marine Raider Regiment, is directed by the United States Special Operations Command. Therefore, forward-operating MEU(SOC)s receive enhanced training and are specially equipped and organized to provide selected maritime special purpose capabilities complementary and in support of combat commanders. In addition to the conventional capabilities noted above, MEU(SOC)s will, upon deployment, possess the following skills and capabilities:[3]

  • Close quarters battle (CQB): conduct direct action missions, employing close quarter battle combat and dynamic assault tactics and techniques.
  • Direct action: conduct raid, ambush, or direct assault tactics; conduct standoff attacks by fire from air, ground, or maritime platforms; and provide terminal guidance for precision-guided munitions.
  • Clandestine recovery operations: ability to recovery downed aviation pilots or sensitive materials behind enemy lines; conduct clandestine extraction of personnel or sensitive items from enemy-controlled areas.
  • Tactical recovery of aircraft, equipment and personnel (TRAP): conduct overland recovery of downed aircraft and personnel, aircraft sanitization, and provide advanced trauma-life support in a benign or hostile environment.
  • Specialized demolition operations: conduct specialized breaching: to employ specialized demolitions in support of other special operations. This includes an explosive entry capability to support close quarters battle/combat.
  • In-extremis hostage rescue (IHR): conduct recovery operations during an in-extremis situation by means of an emergency extraction of hostages and/or sensitive items from a non-permissive environment and expeditiously transport them to a designated safe haven. The IHR capability will only be employed when directed by appropriate authority and when dedicated national assets are unavailable. Emphasis is placed on isolation, containment, employment of reconnaissance assets, and preparation for turnover of the crisis site when/if national assets arrive[4]
  • Airfield/Ports/Other Key Facilities Seizure: secure an airfield, port, or other key facilities in order to support MAGTF missions or to receive follow-on forces.
  • Gas and oil platforms operations (GOPLAT): conduct seizure and/or destruction of offshore gas and oil platforms.
  • Maritime interdiction operations (MIO): conduct MIO in support of visit, board, search, and seizure (VBSS) operations during day or night on a cooperative, uncooperative, or hostile contact of interest.
  • Reconnaissance and Surveillance (R&S): conduct clandestine reconnaissance and surveillance through entry into an objective area by air, surface, or subsurface means in order to perform information collection, target acquisition, and other intelligence collection tasks.

Pre-deployment training program (PTP)Edit

Every 18-months, all units that are under the Marine air-ground task force's MEFs assemble the MEUs and train them individually within their units, or together in a cohesive exercise. They have one purpose, to become certified special operations capable. The Special Operations Capable Certification process is in three phases: initial, intermediate, and final. Once certified, they are under status as "force-in-readiness" for 15-months.

Initial training phaseEdit

The initial training phase is the phase that focuses on training of individual personnel and small units of the Marine Expeditionary Units. Many Marines attend courses or training schools that may require advancement or additional skills to meet the demand of their unit's quota. Training and exercises by many cooperative cross-service agencies also help set courses of instruction for the MEU's Command Elements, subordinate elements (MSE), and the Maritime Special Purpose Force. Also, staff training is included in the MEU's CE and MSE elements. Because of time constraints and limited training resources, every effort must be made to efficiently use the training time available during this phase.[5]

  1. Expeditionary strike group/Marine expeditionary unit (special operations capable) staff planning course
  2. Operations and intelligence seminar
  3. MEU command element situational training exercises (STX)
  4. Initial training phase "at-sea period"
  5. Special Operations Training Group (SOTG) special skills courses
  6. Fire support coordination exercise
  7. Interoperability and parallel training: conducted jointly with an Amphibious Squadron and Naval Special Warfare detachment

Intermediate training phaseEdit

All the training and exercises that are conducted by the Marine Expeditionary Units while either on pre-deployment, or currently deployed, under a training curriculum, or not deployed operationally are during the Intermediate Training Phase. The purpose of this phase is to build unit cohesion and leadership, and emphasis on functioning as a team. A string of exercises are begun, and a MEU utilizes this time to rehearse for the upcoming Special Operations Capable Exercise that will determine their Special Operations Capable certification.

At the beginning of the intermediate training phase, an operational analysis is conducted by the MEU Commander in order to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the subordinate elements. This will also assist in developing the commander's guidance regarding training priorities. Once developed, the MEU Commander will provide training guidance to improve and sustain the MSE's required capabilities.[5]

  1. Intermediate training phase at sea period: emphasis the training of Gas/Oil Platform (GOPLAT) and Visit, Board, Search, and Seizure (VBSS) training. Under unique predeployment or operational circumstances, the MEF Commander can reduce or increase the emphasis on either of the mission. Concurrence on this modification to training will be obtained from Headquarters Marine Corps Plans, Policies and Operations (PP&O) from the appropriate Commander, Marine Corps Forces.[5]
  2. Long-range night raids: takes place on ground or other structures.
  3. Maritime Special Purpose Force Interoperability Training: following the successful completion of individual and small unit special skills training conducted during the "Initial Training Phase", the purpose is to consolidate the Command and Control (C&C), Reconnaissance and Surveillance (R&S), Assault, Security, and Aviation Assault elements. The training is either conducted locally or off-site. It also proves a logical prerequisite for the TRUEX and opportunity to conduct basic level training with the Amphibious Squadron, Navy Special Warfare Detachment.
  4. Training in urban environment exercise (TRUEX): The TRUEX provides the MEU's elements of the CE, ACE, CSSE, and along with the MSPF, the opportunity for training in unfamiliar built-up environments during urbanized warfare. The MEF's Special Operations Training Group (SOTG) coordinates their training with the municipal, state, and federal officials, such as the local and state police, fire departments, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to make this training as realistic as possible for Marines within the MEU. This Exercise gives the MEU the preparation for any world conflict or peacekeeping/humanitarian operations. Many local towns have participated in the events. TRUEX provides an opportunity to integrate unique individual and small unit, close quarters combat (CQC) skills in conjunction with the MEU's increased proficiency in the rapid response planning process (R2P2), and practice in enhanced urban operations.
  5. Marine expeditionary unit exercise (MEUEX): The MEUEX is the final Intermediate Training Phase exercise that evaluates the MEU's core capabilities before commencing the final test during the Special Operations Capable Exercise, which will determine its certification for special operations. All of the MEU's subordinate units participate in the MEUEX. The primary focus of this exercise is to refine the unit standard operating procedures's and R2P2. In some cases, if possible, the MEUEX is conducted in conjunction with an at-sea period.

Final training phaseEdit

The final training phase is the culmination of all predeployment training activities. Its focus is on preparation for the Special Operations Capable Exercise, and predeployment embarkation requirements.[5]

  1. Pre-embarkation Maintenance Stand-Down: This is held before the last scheduled at-sea training period. It allows the MEU time to ensure all equipment is in the highest state of readiness prior to the SOCEX.
  2. Advanced Amphibious Training: During the last scheduled at-sea training period, the Amphibious Squadron (PHIBRON) and MEU refine their ability to conduct amphibious operations, and conventional and selected maritime special operations capabilities.
  3. Fleet Exercise (FLEETEX) - Supporting Arms Coordination Exercise (SACEX): This is the PHIBRON and MEU's final evaluation of its amphibious warfare, conventional, and selected maritime special operations capabilities prior to SOCEX.
  4. Special Operations Capable Exercise (SOCEX): Final Evaluation and Certification. This is the final test that certifies the MEU to be capable for maritime special operations. It designates the MEU into MEU (Special Operations Capable), or MEU(SOC).
  5. Pre-Overseas Movement (POM): During the POM period, the final preparations for deployment are conducted. The focus is on personnel and equipment readiness. Training and operational deficiencies noted during the SOCEX evaluation are corrected as required.
  6. Crisis Interaction Requirements Exercise (CIREX): The CIREX is a discussion built around a crisis scenario tailored to the PHIBRON and MEU(SOC). It is conducted at Fort Bragg, NC to ensure the maximum exposure of the PHIBRON/MEU personnel to their SOF counterparts. The CIREX enhances PHIBRON and MEU(SOC) understanding of, and interoperability with, Joint Special Operations Command Task Forces and Elements. Staff members from the PHIBRON and MEU CE and selected members of the MEUs MSEs participate in the CIREX.
  7. Washington, D.C. Area Commanders’ Briefings: During this period select members of the PHIBRON and MEU(SOC) receive briefings from senior United States Department of State, Department of Defense, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Headquarters Marine Corps, and Central Intelligence Agency personnel. Conducting these briefings within the Washington D.C. area ensures the highest level of participation by the organizations and external agencies involved. Other agencies or Unified Combatant Command representatives may be added at the request of the PHIBRON and MEU(SOC) commanders.

Special-operations-capable forcesEdit

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c Commandant of the Marine Corps. "Policy for Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) (MEU(SOC))". United States Marine Corps.
  2. ^ a b MAGTF Warfighting Center Concept Publication 8-1 (WCCP 8-1): Operational Concept for Marine Expeditionary Units (Special Operations Capable); September 1990.
  3. ^ Marine Corps Order 3120.9B, Policy for Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), (Wash., DC: HQMC, 2001)
  4. ^ MAGTF Special Operations Capable, Standardization Conference Paper. (Wash., D.C, HQMC: January, 1992); 1 to Encl 4.
  5. ^ a b c d Marine Corps Order 3502.3A, Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) Predeployment Training Program, (Wash, DC: HQMC MCO, 2001)