The U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) was formally stood up as a unified command on 16 April 1987. It is one of nine unified commands reporting to the Secretary of Defense through the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff. The primary mission of USSOCOM is to provide combat-ready special operations forces (SOF) in peacetime and in war for the theater combatant commanders, American ambassadors and their country's teams, and other Government agencies. The Commander in Chief of USSOCOM (USCINCSOC) carries out that primary responsibility by performing several supporting functions, which include developing and acquiring SOF-unique equipment, materiel, supplies, and services. Within USSOCOM, the Special Operations Acquisition Executive (SOAE) is directly responsible for the research, development, and acquisition (RD&A) of systems peculiar to special operations (SO). The SOAE manages this responsibility in two ways: (1) program execution within USSOCOM for systems unique to SOF; or (2) working cooperatively with the services and Department of Defense (DoD) agencies such as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), with other Government agencies such as the Department of Energy and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and with industry as well as academia.
In 1986, Title 10, U.S. Code (USC), Section 167, was signed, which provided USSOCOM the responsibility to develop and acquire SO-peculiar equipment, materiel, supplies, and services; in 1988, the Secretary of Defense (SECDEF) granted USSOCOM the opportunity to establish a contracting activity; in 1989 the acting SECDEF assigned Major Force Program 11 (MFP-11) Program Objective Memorandum (POM) and budget authority to USSOCOM; and, in 1992, USSOCOM appointed the SOAE to execute the command's acquisition objectives and strategies. However, because of the limited funding in MFP-11, Congressional Committees on Appropriations directed that USSOCOM work with all research activities to ensure that SO technology needs are considered in the development of their technology base programs. To this end, Congress reiterated that the unique missions of SOF require their capabilities be based on the leading edge of technology, and, therefore, expects these activities "to expend an appropriate amount of the technology base effort identifying and developing technologies that have Special Operations potential." While USSOCOM has a Service-like responsibility for research, development, and acquisition, the command is a user rather than a developer of technology, and does not have a dedicated laboratory structure as do the military departments. USSOCOM's technology strategy is to monitor emerging technology relevant to SOF needs, participate in selected programs that relate to SOF technology development objectives, and execute selected high priority projects to exploit emerging technology for near-term SOF application. A key thrust of this strategy is to proceed urgently with the prevailing objective to "increase the capability of assigned forces through the fielding of SO-peculiar materiel meeting user requirements in the shortest possible time, i.e., aggressive use of prototyping."