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Carving our Niche: A Modular Concept for Future Civil Affairs

Updated: Jun 29, 2020

"Increasing Civil Affairs technical expertise through advanced schooling will allow our Corps to better respond to evolving threats and to actually be what we tell others we are—masters of the human domain."

Problem Statement

How does a four-person Civil Affairs Team (CAT) conduct Human Network Analysis (HNA), Foreign Internal Defense (FID), Humanitarian Assistance (HA), and support to Unconventional Warfare (UW) over an entire Area of Responsibility (AOR) when statistically one person being non-mission capable reduces its the team’ capabilities by 25 percent? The current CAT structure restricts the ability to balance survivability with the accomplishment of a mission. Additionally, the nature of Civil Affairs missions requires a wider skill set to meet the supported commander’s intent.


The U.S. Army Special Operations Command (USASOC) is constantly evolving to counter future threats across the spectrum of conflict within the gray zone between peace and overt war. Civil Affairs forces must be included in this evolution to address future threats and adversaries. Multi-domain Civil Affairs Activities (CAA) require training, knowledge and manning that the current four-person team are not postured to support and moreover, the Cross-Functional Teams (CFT) often fail to achieve its purpose—the integration of SOF skill sets at the tactical level. The concept of the Civil Affairs Cognitive Operations Team (COT) as the premier HNA experts within Special Operations fulfills this role. The COT, consisting of nine CA Soldiers, would be better equipped to feed the targeting cycle, and influence indigenous populations and institutions (IPI). The addition of five additional CA Soldiers would enhance the COT’s ability to conduct effective Civil Reconnaissance (CR), Civil Engagements (CE), targeting, and HNA in emerging environments. Ultimately, the COT model increases overall freedom of action and survivability.

While this paper is largely aimed at Special Operations Civil Affairs forces, the need for advanced schooling applies across the Civil Affairs Corps. Many of the recommendations surrounding training and education should be adopted throughout the Civil Affairs Corps. Increasing Civil Affairs technical expertise through advanced schooling will allow our Corps to better respond to evolving threats and to actually be what we tell others we are—masters of the human domain.

Concept of a Deployed COT

The foundation of the COT is based off USASOC Campaign Plan (CAMPLAN) 2035’s SOF/IC3 Concept.[1] The COT would be led by a senior Captain and Master Sergeant. The expectation of COT leadership is that they are experts at enhancing or influencing the human domain to maximize battlefield effects for the supported commander. The Human Terrain Analyst allows the team to develop real-time information on potential targets, External State Actors and projects in the physical, human, and cyber domains.

An article in Special Warfare proposed a CA Warrant Officer concept. The Warrant Officer would be slotted into the Civil-Military Operations Center (CMOC) as the guardian of all institutional and operational knowledge.[2] The COT uses the 380A as the regional tactical subject-matter expert (SME) on the ground, who intimately understands cultural taboos, language, conflict history and grievances in the region. A dedicated communications expert maintains and operates cutting-edge nonstandard communication and technological equipment; this allows the Civil Affairs NCO (CANCO) to focus on analyzing information gathered, critical infrastructure and logistical requirements in the area of operations. Use of Psychological Operations (PSYOP) personnel and the 38X would allow for timely authorization and the potential to exploit adversaries by expanding counter-network and Information Operations capabilities on the battlefield.

Future Manning Concept

Delineating specific military occupational specialties (MOS) not only streamlines the efficiency of each member, it eliminates the need for each soldier to balance too many tasks and team duties imperfectly . Team cross training is currently insufficient to address this problem. The question may arise from Senior Leaders, “Why not just submit a request for support (RFS) and create a temporary Army Special Operations Forces Task Force or assemble a CFT of creating new Military Occupational Specialties?” Experience shows that the RFS process can be cumbersome, slow, and even denied. A hastily constructed CFT, which has never conducted mission analysis, trained or deployed together, would contribute to a host of new problems. In the context of a COT, creating an enduring capacity is optimal over the long run. As the ancient philosopher Lao Tzu stated millennia ago, “If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, and you will feed him for a lifetime.”

COT Design

The Cognitive Operations Team will consist of the following with recommended training:

38A -Team Commander – Experienced CPT

Training: Advanced Negotiations, Network Enablers Course, Advanced Special Operations Techniques, Cultural Analysis, United States Institute of Peace training, Embassy Operations, Public Speaking

38Z -Team Sergeant – MSGT

Training: Advanced Negotiations, Special Operations Forces Surveillance Course, Counter IED, SERE 211, and Low Visibility Infiltration Course

380A/38A - Regional Expert – WO/CPT

Training: Advanced Regional Analysis, National Cryptologic School, Defense Language Institute

38F - Human Terrain Analyst – Senior SFC

Training: Cyber Advanced Security Operations, Special Warfare Operational Design Course, Network Engagement Course, Joint Targeting Course, Office of Special Warfare Courses, Special Operations Foundations course

38 D- Special Opertions Medic – SSG

Training: NATO Special Operations Medic course, Special Operations Forces Austere Care Course, Wilderness Medicine, Advance Tactical Practitioner, Tropical Medicine, Army Trauma Training Center

38 B- Civil Affairs NCO – SSG

Training: Special Operations Nonstandard Logistics Course, FEMA courses, Reconnaissance and Surveillance Leaders Course, Special Operations Construction Course, Critical Infrastructure, Sapper Leaders Course


Training: Special Operations Nonstandard Communications Course, JOC-C, Special Operations Communication Course, 18E course

38 X - Asset Management – SSG/SFC

Training: ASOT Manager’s Course, 38X pipeline

37 B - Information Operations/Messaging - SGT/SSG

Training: PSYOP and Cyber courses

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COT Management Suggestion:

The COT Concept should not entirely replace the current SOF Civil Affairs structure right away. It should be tested in the most austere environments; it should also be a competitive assignment. Each battalion could designate their F Company for future COT mission sets. The company would consist of a headquarters element (senior Major and Sergeant Major), Civil Knowledge Integration Center (CKIC), 2 COTs, and a robust logistical and communications support element. This designation would only slightly change the manning structure of our current force laydown. Once the COT has proven its capability and effectiveness within 1st Special Forces Command (1SFC) or with Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) mission sets, the 95th Civil Affairs Brigade should consider total integration of the COT concept.

Current Capability Application:

Combat Training Center (CTC) rotations are the primary choice for 1SFC to train Soldiers in real world applications. Special Operations Civil Affairs companies can apply the fundamentals of COT by combining two Civil Affairs Teams (CAT), a Tactical PSYOP Team (TPT), and either the Special Operations Team-Alpha (SOT-A) or the Advanced Operating Base’s (AOB) Human Intelligence Cell, to prepare for upcoming deployments during their CTC rotation.

Increased manning enhances independent freedom of maneuver and action on the CTC battlefield. Using the proposed construct enables the COT to maneuver on the battlefield without additional support from the AOB and/or Operational Detachment Alphas (ODA). The team can now focus on expanded civil affairs activities rather than the common trend of just being attached to an ODA. The COT concentrates its focus of Human Terrain Analysis, CR, and CE to disrupt enemy activity in the cyber, physical and human domains. Additionally, the COT feeds the joint targeting cycle by gathering atmospherics, identifying and developing networks, ultimately enabling the AOB and Brigade Combat Team (BCT) to defeat the enemy. Moreover, these COT activities empower ODAs and other partners to spend more time on Special Reconnaissance (SR), target development and increases the overall effectiveness of combat power at the AOB as a whole.

To maximize training value of a combined team, the two CATs would alternate responsibilities daily; one CAT would lead the mission planning process, while the other would concentrate on FID force training for each mission. They will collectively brief the Operations Order, execute the tactical mission, and conduct the after action review. This enables a training schedule that focuses efforts on efficient and effective battlefield analytics, CA activities, and the Mission Essential Task List.


[1]. USASOC Strategy-2035 represents guidance for the development of future ARSOF operational and institutional capabilities. It is a document derived from our national strategies, SOCOM-2035, and the Army Operating Concept. USASOC Strategy-2035 initiates our Strategic Planning Process and serves as the foundation for the USASOC Guidance for Employment of the Force.

[2]. Thomas Matelski, C., Ludwick, & Grez, “Civil Affairs Warrant Officers: Bridging the Technical Capabilities Gap,” Special Warfare, (December 2018), Officers.pdf.--Colonel Matelski and others argue that a Civil Affairs Warrant officer (380A) is needed in the Civil Military Operations Center to provide operational and regional expertise.


The views expressed are mine and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of U.S. Special Operations Command, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

About the Author

Captain Brenden Jackman is an Active Duty Army Special Operations Civil Affairs Officer currently completing his Master’s in Counter Terrorism through Pennsylvania State University. He received a B.A. in Political Science/International Affairs from University of Albany. He has deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan, Cameroon, Chad, Jamaica, and Honduras.

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