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Last Updated: 05 June, 2016

1.0     Introduction

427 SOAS, Special Operations Aviation SquadronThis article provides an overview of 427 Special Operations Aviation Squadron (427 SOAS).

427 SOAS was established (more accurately retitled and re-roled) on 01 February 2006. The approximately 250 person 427 SOAS is headquartered at Canadian Forces Base Petawawa, Ontario, and is commanded by a Squadron Leader (OF-3) or Lieutenant Colonel (OF-4).

These aircrew form the aviation element of the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command (CANSOFCOM or CSOFC) Special Operations Forces (SOF) community, a “fourth service” (Horn, 2012, p.48) of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF).

427 SOAS started life as 427 (Lion) Squadron in November 1942 (427 Squadron Association, 2007).

427 SOAS is a Canadian Air Force unit, part of 1 Wing, embedded as an integral element of CANSOFCOM and is the command’s rotary wing aviation squadron. CANSOFCOM has operational control (OPCOM) of 427 SOAS.

The primary role of 427 SOAS is to provide a dedicated special operations aviation capability for both domestic and international operations. In its secondary role 427 SOAS supports the provision of tactical and admin/utility aviation to CANADACOM, to include support to secondary Search and Rescue (SAR) and domestic contingency operations.

427 SOAS is a mixture of civilian and military personnel (both Regular and Reserve forces).

2.0     Why Special Operations Pilots Require Special Training

I will leave it to Travis Morehen, a Lieutenant Colonel in the Canadian Air Force and SOF pilot, to discuss why pilots (and other air support personnel) require special training with regards to SOF aviation (2009, p.20):

“When pilots receive their wings it signifies that they have achieved a standard that is acceptable for employment in the Air Force; however, this does not automatically grant them the ability to be SOF aviators. They may possess the desired attributes and aptitudes for SOF employment, but in order to further reduce the risk of failure in training or operations, SOF aviators must be selected just as if they were clearing a house of terrorists or saving a hostage. The measures and means may be different, but the process needs to produce the same outcome; a quality SOF operator capable of conducting sensitive high-risk missions under extreme stress and with little supervision. The Desert One case study amply demonstrates this point as well as indicating this process must take place before those forces are required.”

3.0     Tier 1 or Tier 2 Status

427 SOAS is considered an enabler/support unit and consequently deemed a Tier 2 SOF unit.

Some units are sometimes referred to as a ‘Tier 1’ units because they are usually tasked with a direct action role. Other SOF units are referred to as ‘Tier 2’ units because they, usually, fulfil a supporting role for the Tier 1 units.

4.0     General Duties of 427 SOAS

The primary role of 427 SOAS is to provide a dedicated special operations aviation capability for both domestic and international operations. Specifically, 427 SOAS has supporting roles to play in counter-terrorism, direct action, special reconnaissance and DDMA (defence, diplomacy and military assistance).

In its secondary role 427 SOAS supports the provision of tactical and admin/utility aviation to CANADACOM, to include support to secondary Search and Rescue (SAR) and domestic contingency operations.

Expanding on the primary role of 427 SOAS, the unit provides:

  • Insertion, extraction, and resupply of SOF using specialty methods which conventional forces (as a general rule) are neither trained in nor equipped for. The three common SOF methods of insertion and extraction are:
    • By using fast rope;
    • Rappelling; and/or
    • Low hover techniques.
  • These techniques can be performed day or night in a rural, urban, or maritime environment.
  • In addition to supporting on-board aerial snipers, 427 SOAS aircraft are also able to provide limited direct fire support from crew-served helicopter mounted machine-guns.
  • An enhanced intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability.
  • A capability to conduct operations at night and in a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) environment.

Prior to 2009, candidates for 427 SOAS would be posted to the unit “without even having to volunteer.” (Morehen, 2009, p.7).

There is a natural progression that can take place for aircrew going into 427 SOAS that allows them to:

  • Master conventional tactical flying
  • Basic special operations aviation (BSOA) manoeuvres; and
  • Then advanced special operations aviation (ASOA) manoeuvres.

The main difference between BSOA and ASOA tasks is the precision in which manoeuvres are performed and the platforms on which they are performed.

5.0     Useful Links

  • Canadian Special Operations Forces: http://www.forces.gc.ca/en/operations-special-forces/index.page
  • 427 Squadron Association: www.427squadron.com/
  • 427 Special Operations Aviation Squadron (427 SOAS): http://www.airforce.forces.gc.ca/en/1-wing/427-squadron.page

6.0     References

427 Squadron Association (2007) 427 Squadron History. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.427squadron.com/427history.html. [Accessed: 18 April, 2016].

Campion-Smith, B. (2016) Looking for a Few Good Women – Canada’s Military goes on a Hiring Spree. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2016/03/14/looking-for-a-few-good-women-canadas-military-goes-on-a-hiring-spree.html. [Accessed: 20 April, 2016].

Horn, B. (2012) “We Will Find a Way”: Understanding the Legacy of Canadian Special Operations Forces. JSOU Report 12-2. February 2012. Available from World Wide Web: http://jsou.socom.mil/JSOU%20Publications/12-2_Horn_CanadianSOF(Feb12)_final.PDF. [Accessed: 17 April, 2016].

Knarr, W., Turnley, J.G., Stewart, D.J., Rubright, R. & Quirin, J. (2014) Special Operations Forces Mixed-Gender Elite Teams (SOFMET): Examining Socio-Cultural Dynamics of SOFMET. Joint Special Operations University, Centre for Special Operations Studies and Research. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.defense.gov/Portals/1/Documents/wisr-studies/SOCOM%20-%20JSOU%20Study%20on%20Special%20Operations%20Forces%20Mixed-Gender%20Elite%20Team3.pdf. [Accessed: 20 April, 2016].

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