Task force

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A task force (TF) is a unit or formation established to work on a single defined task or activity. Originally introduced by the United States Navy, the term has now caught on for general usage and is a standard part of NATO terminology. Many non-military organizations now create "task forces" or task groups for temporary activities that might have once been performed by ad hoc committees.


The concept of a naval task force is as old as navies, but the term came into extensive use originally by the United States Navy around the beginning of 1941, as a way to increase operational flexibility. Prior to that time the assembly of ships for naval operations was referred to as fleets, divisions, or on the smaller scale, squadrons, and flotillas.

Before World War II ships were collected into divisions derived from the Royal Navy's "division" of the line of battle in which one squadron usually remained under the direct command of the Admiral of the Fleet, one squadron was commanded by a Vice Admiral, and one by a Rear Admiral, each of the three squadrons flying different coloured flags, hence the terms flagship and flag officer. The flag of the Fleet Admiral's squadron was red, the Vice Admiral's was white and the Rear Admiral's blue. (The names "Vice" (possibly from advanced) and "Rear" might have derived from sailing positions within the line at the moment of engagement.) In the late 19th century ships were collected in numbered squadrons, which were assigned to named (such as the Asiatic Fleet) and later numbered fleets.

A task force can be assembled using ships from different divisions and squadrons, without requiring a formal and permanent fleet reorganization, and can be easily dissolved following completion of the operational task. The task force concept worked very well, and by the end of World War II about 100 task forces had been created in the U.S. Navy alone.

United States Navy

These are temporary organizations composed of particular ships, aircraft, submarines, military land forces, or shore service units, assigned to fulfill certain missions. The emphasis is placed on the individual commander of the unit, and references to “CTF” are common. CTF is an abbreviation for “Commander, Task Force”.

In the U.S. Navy, task forces as part of numbered fleets have been assigned a two-digit number. "In March of 1943, Cominch [Commander-in-Chief, United States Fleet, Admiral Ernest J. King] instituted the system of numbering all fleets, assigning the even numbers to the Atlantic and the odd to the Pacific. This resulted in adding fleet designations to the titles of the various forces in the theater: Naval Forces, Europe, became the Twelfth Fleet; South Atlantic Force the Fourth Fleet; and Naval Forces, Northwest African Waters, the Eight Fleet. The Atlantic Fleet, itself, was designated the Second Fleet. The standardization of fleet designation led to a definite system in task force designation.[1] A force was numbered with two digits - the first being that of the fleet from which the force was taken and the second indicating the sequence in that fleet. Task group within a force were numbered by an additional digit separated from the TF number by a decimal point. To indicate a task unit within a group, another decimal point and digit were added. Thus, the third task unit of the fifth task group of the second task force of the Sixth Fleet would be numbered 62.5.3."

This arrangement was typically abbreviated, so references like TF 11 are commonly seen. Likewise the force is broken down as following: task force, task group, task unit, and task element. In addition, a task force could be broken into several task groups,[2] identified by decimal points, as in TG 11.2, and finally task units, as in TU 11.2.1. Individual ships are task elements, for example TE would be the second ship in TU 11.2.1.

Note that there is no requirement for uniqueness over time. The United States Seventh Fleet used TF 76 in World War II, and off Vietnam, and continued to use TF70-79 numberings throughout the rest of the twentieth century, and up to 2012.

Some US Navy task forces during the Second World War:

The U.S. Navy has used numbered task forces in the same way since 1945. The U.S. Department of Defense often forms a Joint Task Force if the force includes units from other services. Joint Task Force 1 was the atomic bomb test force during the post-World War II Operation Crossroads.[3]

In naval terms, the multinational Australian/US/UK/Canadian/NZ Combined Communications Electronics Board mandates through Allied Communications Publication 113 (ACP 113) the present system, which allocated numbers from TF 1 to apparently TF 999.[4] For example, the Royal Navy's Illustrious battle group in 2000 for Exercise Linked Seas, subsequently deployed to Operation Palliser, was Task Group 342.1.[5] The French Navy is allocated the series TF 470–474, and Task Force 473 has been used recently for an Enduring Freedom task force deployment built around the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle (R91). Task Force 142 is the U.S. Navy's Operational Test and Evaluation Force.

Royal Navy

Earlier in the Second World War, the British Royal Navy had devised its own similar system of Forces, which were assigned a letter rather than a number. For example, the force stationed at Gibraltar was known as Force H, the force stationed at Malta was known as Force K, and the force stationed at Singapore in December 1941 was known as Force Z.

During the Falklands War in 1982 Royal Navy assembled a Task Force to achieve sea and air supremacy in the Total Exclusion Zone, before the amphibious forces arrived. The Argentine Navy formed three lesser Task Groups (Grupo de Tareas) for pincer movements.


In the U.S. Army, a task force is a battalion-sized (usually, although there are variations in size) ad hoc unit formed by attaching smaller elements of other units. A company-sized unit with an armored or mechanized infantry unit attached is called a company team. A similar unit at the brigade level is called a brigade combat team (BCT), and there is also a similar Regimental combat team (RCT).

In the British Army and the armies of other Commonwealth countries, such units are known as battlegroups.


In government or business a task force is a temporary organization created to solve a particular problem. It is considered to be a more formal ad hoc committee.

A taskforce, or more-commonly task force, is a special committee, usually of experts, formed expressly for the purpose of studying a particular problem. The task force usually performs some sort of an audit to assess the current situation, then draws up a list of all the current problems present and evaluates which ones merit fixing and which ones are actually fixable. The task force would then formulate a set of solutions to the problems and pick the "best" solution to each problem, as determined by some set of standards. For example, a task force set up to eliminate excessive government spending might consider a "best" solution to be one that saves the most money. Normally, the task force then presents its findings and proposed solutions to the institution that called for its formation; it is then up to the institution itself to actually act upon the task force's recommendations.

Other data regarding US task forces

  • US Army Task Force Lethal is the name for 2 - 12 Infantry battalion out of Fort Carson, Colorado. Part of the Army's 4th Infantry division, 4th brigade combat team, 2nd battalion, 12th Infantry regiment Task Force Lethal. Some of the heaviest firefights US troops were engaged in was in the Kunar province by teams of Task Force Lethal, there to replace members of the 174th airborne units and their outpost Restrepo. Task Force Lethal is assigned to work as part of the International Security Assistance Force. Task Force Lethal prides itself as one of the Army's premier multi-task light Infantry units that has trained at home in the mountainous regions of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado and excels at high altitude warfare. The commandos of Task Force Lethal have remained one of the US Army's most elite task forces in the Global War on Terror since the start in 2003.

Task forces in popular culture

  • In Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, some of the main characters are from an elite, international special operations task force called Task Force 141.
  • In City of Heroes, a task force was a large-scale story arc of several missions in which 3–8 players took part in, often resulting in a climatic battle against the villain of the story arc.
  • In the TV series Hawaii Five-O, Steven "Steve" McGarrett created the so-called "Five-O Task Force" which was group of state police based in Hawaii, hence Hawaii Five-O.

See also


  1. HyperWar, Chapter 4: Fleet Administration, accessed August 2012
  2. Group. GlobalSecurity.org. Retrieved 2009-08-30.
  3. Nichols, K.D. (1987). The Road to Trinity. New York: Morrow. ISBN 068806910X.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Combined Communication Electronics Board (September 2004). "Annex A: Task Force Allocations" (PDF). ACP 113(AF) Call Sign Book for Ships. Joint Chiefs of Staff. pp. A-1–A-2 (197–198). Archived from the original (PDF) on February 28, 2008. Retrieved 12 October 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Operations in Sierra Leone, August 9, 2000, Jane's Defence Weekly.

Further reading

  • Timothy M. Bonds, Myron Hura, Thomas-Durrell Young, 'Enhancing Army Joint Force Headquarters Capabilities,' Santa Monica, CA; RAND Corporation, 2010 - includes list of joint task forces