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Last Updated: 28 March, 2016

1.0     Introduction

Logo, AFSOC, Air Force Special Operations Command, US, Special Forces, USAFThis article is about the United States Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) which is the Air component of the US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM).

In August 1943, General Henry H. ‘Hap’ Arnold met with British Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten to discuss plans for American air support of British commando expeditions in the China-Burma-India theatre of operations. General Arnold coined the term ‘Air Commando’ to honour Lord Mountbatten, which also came to represent solidarity between US flyers and British-led ground forces.

Following demobilisation of armed forces after World War II the USAF inactivated Air Commando units.

In April 1962, as the US augmented its counter insurgency capabilities, the USAF re-established and activated the 1st Air Commando Group. By doing so, the link between one of WWII’s most famous combat units was reconnected with the Air Commandos of Vietnam.

More recently, after the 1980 failed rescue attempt of American hostages in Iran, known as Operation EAGLE CLAW, the Department of Defence saw a need to establish a counterterrorism task force with a permanently assigned staff and forces, and a panel to focus on special operations.

This decision led to the formation of USSOCOM in 1987 and in 1990 AFSOC was established. AFSOC is now the home of America’s Air Commandos.

Today, a core role of AFSOC is to provide Special Tactics personnel for rapid global employment to enable airpower success. They are USSOCOM’s tactical air and ground integration force and the US Air Force’s special operations ground force to enable global access, precision strike and personnel recovery operations.

There are nearly 1,000 Special Tactics operators within AFSOC and approximately 2,500 members make up the Special Tactics community, with almost 1,500 assigned to the 24th Special Operations Wing.

The article will look at the background to the US Air Force’s Special Operations Command and the type of Special Operations Forces (SOF) personnel within it. The article will also describe the Command’s organisation which encompasses a wide variety of units and organisations.

Finally, the article will provide some useful links and books, as well as access to useful document and references.

1.1     AFSOC Mission

The broad mission of AFSOC is to “Organize, train and equip Airmen to execute global special operations.” (USSOCOM, 2015a, p.26).

Core missions include:

  • Battlefield air operations;
  • Agile combat support;
  • Aviation foreign internal defence;
  • Information operations/military support operations;
  • Precision strike;
  • Specialised air mobility;
  • Command and control; and
  • Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

1.2     Women and AFSOC

Women in the US military have, for a number of years, been able to serve in a variety of SOF-related roles, including:

  • Intelligence;
  • MISO and CA units;
  • Female engagement teams;
  • Cultural support teams; and
  • Air Force special operations aviation roles.

As of March 2015, approximately two-thirds of the roles in USSOCOM were integrated (Vogel, 2015).

On 04 December 2015, the US Secretary of Defence, Ash Carter, announced that beginning in January 2016, all military occupations would be open to women (Pellerin, 2015).

However, in a survey of over 7,600 special operations forces personnel by the RAND Corporation, the overwhelming view was negative: “Allowing women to serve in Navy SEAL, Army Delta or other commando units could hurt their effectiveness and lower the standards, and it may drive men away from the dangerous posts.” (Baldor, 2015).

2.0     Background

Logo, AFSOC, Air Force Special Operations Command, US, Special Forces, Air CommandoThe United States Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC or USAFSOC) was established on 22 May 1990 and is located at Hurlburt Field, Florida.

It is one of four components of the US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), a unified command located at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida, and one of ten major Air Force Commands of the US Air Force.

AFSOC consists of military (Regular, Reserve and National Guard) and civilian personnel in operator, enabler and support roles (Vogel, 2015). The military personnel of AFSOC can be divided into three broad categories: Special Tactics; Special Operations Aviators; and Support Air Commandos.

  • Special Tactics: Highly skilled operators who are trained and equipped to operate under difficult conditions using stealth, speed and teamwork. They include:
    • Commissioned Officers: Special Tactics has three career fields open to qualified officer candidates: Combat Rescue Officer; Special Tactics Officer; and Special Operations Weather Officer.
    • Combat Controllers (CCT): are certified air traffic controllers trained to infiltrate undetected via sea, air or land into combat and hostile environments to establish assault zones or airfields, while simultaneously conducting air traffic control, fire support, command and control, direct action, counter-terrorism, foreign internal defence, humanitarian assistance and special reconnaissance.
    • Pararescuemen (PJs): are the only US Department of Defence specialty specifically trained and equipped to conduct conventional and unconventional recovery operations.
    • Special Operations Weather Team (SOWT): Team members are Air Force meteorologists with unique training to operate in hostile or denied territory to assess environmental data, conduct environmental special reconnaissance and forecast operational impacts.
    • Tactical Air Control Party (TACP): Team members deploy with SOF operating and supervising communication nets to support US Army ground manoeuvre units. They are also certified in joint terminal attack control (JTAC) allowing them to orchestrate close air support.
      • Are JTACs in USAF Special Tactics? The term JTAC is a qualification or certification that any career field can obtain by attending the school, and is frequently misused to describe an individual. Members in the CCT and TACP career fields predominantly hold the JTAC qualification.
  • Special Operations Surgical Teams (SOST): Is an extremely lightweight, mobile and rapidly deployable element that provides highly advanced trauma life support, life-saving damage control surgery, pre/post-operative resuscitation and critical care, and casualty evacuation (CASEVAC) aboard SOF aircraft and/or other opportune/civilian sea, air or land platforms.
    Special Operations Aviators: They fly a fleet of specially-modified aircraft (mainly under the cover of darkness) to provide battlefield air operations, agile combat support, aviation foreign internal defence, information operations/military support operations, precision strike, specialised air mobility; command and control; and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance anywhere in the world.
  • Support Air Commandos: Serve in a variety of mission support, maintenance and medical career fields; otherwise known as Combat Service Support or CSS.

USAF, SOF, Combat Rescue Officer, Special OperationsAFSOC’s unique capabilities include airborne radio and television broadcast for Military Information Support Operations (MISO), as well as aviation foreign internal defence instructors to provide other governments military expertise for their internal development. The command’s special tactics squadrons combine combat controllers, special operations weathermen, pararescuemen, and tactical air control party with other service SOF to form versatile joint special operations teams.

AFSOC is the second largest special operations organisation within USSOCOM with approximately 19,500 personnel (Feickert, 2015; USSOCOM, 2015a), up from 18,000 in 2013 (Robinson, 2013). Machina (2014) identifies 18,143 personnel of which 86% are military and 14% are civilian.

2.1     What is Special Tactics?

Special Tactics is the US Air Force’s Special Operations ground combat forces. Special Tactics teams perform special operations missions to enhance air operations deep in enemy territory, or in remote locations in rugged terrain.

The easiest way to think about it is ‘Special Tactics’ is to US Air Force, as ‘SEALs’ is to the US Navy, and ‘Special Forces’ and ‘Rangers’ are to the US Army.

2.2     Branch of Service

Individuals who currently belong to another branch of Service and are interested in joining a Special Tactics career field can do so. The Special Tactics Recruitment Liaison provides general and individual advice on this process.

2.3     What Special Tactics Career Opportunities are there for Reservists?

Qualifying reservists must become full-time Active Duty (Regular) to pursue careers in all Special Tactics career fields.

3.0     Organisation of AFSOC

The HQ AFSOC is located at Hurlburt Field, Florida, and is commanded by a Lieutenant General (OF-8), who is assisted by a Command Chief Master Sergeant (OR-9).

AFSOC is organised around the following major commands/units (USSOCOM, 2015a):

  • Headquarters (HQ);
  • The Special Operations Air Warfare Centre;
  • Seven Special Operations Wings; and
  • One Special Operations Group.

3.1     HQ AFSOC Key Personalities

Key personalities at AFSOC HQ include:

  • Commander: a Lieutenant General (OF-8);
  • Vice Commander: a Major General (OF-7);
  • Air National Guard Assistant to the Commander: a Major General (OF-7);
  • Mobilisation Assistant to the Commander: a Brigadier General (OF-6);
  • Executive Director: a civilian position. Assists the AFSOC commander as the senior civilian focal point for ensuring all force development, combat capabilities, and resourcing allocations are effectively synchronised and integrated to meet war-fighter requirements. The post holder plans, develops and implements mechanisms to validate current and future requirements; leveraging science and technology in support of equipment modernisation and training transformation initiatives.
  • Director – Plans, Programmes, Requirements and Assessments: a Brigadier General (OF-6).
  • Deputy Director – Plans, Programmes, Requirements and Assessments: a Colonel (OF-5).
  • Chief, Personnel Support Division: a Lieutenant Colonel (OF-4).
  • Chief, Weapons and Tactics Branch: a Major (OF-3).
  • Senior Enlisted Leader: a Command Chief Master Sergeant (OR-9).

4.0     US Air Force Special Operations Air Warfare Centre

Logo, USAF, AFSOC, Air Force Special Operations Air Warfare CentreThe US Air Force Special Operations Air Warfare Centre (AFSOAWC) is located at Hurlburt Field, Florida. The AFSOAWC is commanded by a Colonel (OF-5), who is assisted by the Deputy Commander, also a Colonel.

The AFSOAWC is responsible for:

  • Training and educating:
    • US Air Force SOF personnel;
    • Other USSOCOM components; and
    • Joint, interagency and coalition partners.
  • AFSOC’s Irregular Warfare Programme and activities.
  • Innovation development and operational testing in support of US Air Force SOF worldwide.
  • Evaluation and lessons learned programmes.
  • Developing doctrine and tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) for US Air Force SOF.
  • Non-standard aviation in support of US Army, US Navy, US Air Force, US Marine Corps and allied SOF.
  • Providing mission qualification training in SOF aviation platforms (fixed and rotary-wing) to include AC-130U, AC-130W, U-28, MQ-1, MQ-9, C-145, C-146, as well as small unmanned aerial systems (SUAS).
  • Combat Aviation Advisors.
  • Medical element personnel.
  • AFSOC Security Forces.

AFSOAWC also validates the Total Force Integration concept as it brings together the strengths of USAF personnel (Regular and Reserve), Air National Guard, Department of Defence civilians and contract personnel to form an integrated training and education team dedicated to training new Air Commandos.

The following units are consolidated under the AFSOAWC:

  • US Air Force Special Operations School: located at Hurlburt Field, Florida.
  • 6th Special Operations Squadron: located at Duke Field, Florida.
  • 19th Special Operations Squadron: located at Hurlburt Field, Florida.
  • 551st Special Operations Squadron: located at Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico.
  • 5th Special Operations Squadron, a Reserve unit from the 919th Special Operations Wing: located at Duke Field, Florida.
  • 371st Special Operations Combat Training Squadron: located at Hurlburt Field, Florida.
  • 18th Flight Test Squadron: located at Hurlburt Field, Florida.
  • 592nd Special Operations Maintenance Squadron: located at Duke Field, Florida.
  • 209th Special Operations Civil Engineer Squadron, an Air National Guard unit: located at Gulfport, Mississippi.
  • 280th Special Operations Communications Squadron, an Air National Guard unit: located at Dothan, Alabama

4.1     US Air Force Special Operations School

Logo, AFSOC, Air Force, USAFSOS, USAF Special Operations SchoolThe US Air Force’s Special Operations School (USAFSOS) is located at Hurlburt Field, Florida, and is led by the Commandant, a Lieutenant Colonel (OF-4) or Colonel (OF-5).

The USAFSOS is AFSOC’s conduit for special operations education and professional development, and was established in April 1967 as the US Air Force Special Air Warfare School under the Special Air Warfare Centre, then located at Elgin Air Force Base. The USAFSOS received its current title in 1968.

Initially, USAFSOS’s main purpose was the preparation of USAF personnel for duty in Southeast Asia. However, from a single training programme with 300 graduates per year, the school has grown to 78 classes consisting of some 28 formal courses per year and approximately 25 off-station tutorials for up to 7,000 students annually. It delivers training in four streams: irregular warfare; special operations; theatre engagement; and language and culture.

Examples of courses delivered by the USAFSOS include:

  • Introduction to Special Operations Course (ISOC), 2-3 days.
  • Intel Resources for Complex Operations Course (INSOF), 4.5 days.
  • Special Operations Forces Air Command and Control Course (SOFAC2C), 4.5 days.
  • Mission Commanders Course (MCC), 3 days.
  • Theatre Specific Engagement Courses.
  • Building Partnership Aviation Capacity Seminar (BPACS), 10 days.

The USAFSOS Language and Culture Centre provides language and culture education, training, and sustainment to enhance SOF effectiveness and mission readiness. It provides a number of training opportunities, which include:

  • Intercultural Competencies Basic Course (ICBC): This is an 8-hour (1-day) course that is designed as an introduction to culture and intercultural communications, in order to provide a solid foundation for SOF students to conduct further research into the cultural values, beliefs, behaviours and norms of other countries or regions.
  • Intercultural Competencies Course (ICSOF): This is a 4.5 day course that is designed to provide a variety of hands-on exercises and role-playing scenarios in order to apply communication and negotiation skills. Additionally, the course addresses topics in comparative religions, military culture, food and health concerns in an intercultural setting, and culture shock. Due to its SOF focus, the course also draws on former and current SOF personnel to discuss cases studies and lessons learned with the students.
  • Sustainment and enhancement training in a variety of languages.
  • Familiarisation and pre-deployment courses.
  • Language resources briefings.

4.2     6th Special Operations Squadron

USAF, SOF, CCT, Combat ControllerThe 6th Special Operations Squadron is located at Duke Filed, Florida, and is commanded by a Lieutenant Colonel (OF-4).

The role of the 6th Special Operations Squadron is threefold:

  1. Assess, train, advise and assist foreign aviation units in special operations airpower employment, sustainment and force integration. When required, execute operations directly employing inherent tactical skills.
  2. Apply mission capabilities across the operational continuum with emphasis on combating terrorism, foreign internal defence, unconventional warfare and coalition support.
  3. Advise and assist combatant commanders, civilian agencies and foreign internal aviation units on planning and integrating foreign airpower into theatre campaign plans, contingencies, and other joint and multi-national activities.

4.3     19th Special Operations Squadron

The 19th Special Operations Squadron is located at Hurlburt Field, Florida, and is commanded by a Lieutenant Colonel (OF-4).

As the largest school and advanced mission rehearsal organisation in AFSOC, the role of the 19th Special Operations Squadron is twofold:

  1. It is responsible for the specialised training of combat-ready SOF to conduct clandestine and contingency operations.
  2. It is to exploit advanced technologies in order to provide realistic mission rehearsal during preparation for high-risk special operations missions.

4.4     551st Special Operations Squadron

The 551st Special Operations Squadron is located at Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico, and is commanded by a Lieutenant Colonel (OF-4).

The role of the 551st Special Operations Squadron is to deliver initial mission qualification and upgrade training for AFSOC aviators on a variety of platforms, which may include: AC-130H, AC-130W, MC-130J, CV-22, Remotely Piloted Aircraft and all manner of light/medium commercial aviation transport aircraft.

4.5     5th Special Operations Squadron

The 5th Special Operations Squadron is located at Duke Field, Florida, and is commanded by a Lieutenant Colonel (OF-4). It is a Reserve unit from the 919th Special Operations Wing.

The role of the 5th Special Operations Squadron is to deliver formal special operations aircrew training in the form of covert night infiltration, resupply and combat infiltration and exfiltration operations.

4.6     371st Special Operations Combat Training Squadron

The 371st Special Operations Combat Training Squadron is located at Hurlburt Field, Florida, and is commanded by a Lieutenant Colonel (OF-4).

As AFSOC’s school for Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems and Irregular Warfare Integrated Skills training, the role of the 371st Special Operations Combat Training Squadron is fourfold:

  1. To deliver specialised training of combat ready joint SOF.
  2. Designated AFSOC agent for recruiting of designated SOF aircrew members.
  3. Conduct distributed mission operations and mission rehearsal in support of joint and multinational users.
  4. Provide training support to all USAF Special Operations Training Centre (AFSOTC) gained units.

4.7     18th Flight Test Squadron

The 18th Flight Test Squadron is located at Hurlburt Field, Florida, and is commanded by a Lieutenant Colonel (OF-4).

As AFSOC’s independent field test agency, the role of 18th Flight Test Squadron is threefold:

  1. Determine the operational effectiveness and suitability of aircraft, equipment and tactics.
  2. Conduct:
    1. Force development and evaluation;
    2. Tactics development and evaluations;
    3. Operational utility evaluation;
    4. Operational assessment;
    5. Advanced technology demonstration; and
    6. Support the Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Centre’s (AFOTEC’s) conduct of operational test and evaluation.
  3. Provide accurate and timely information and recommendations to the AFSOC Commander for acquisition and implementation decisions, to ultimately improve the survivability and combat capability of SOF worldwide.

4.8     592nd Special Operations Maintenance Squadron

The 592nd Special Operations Maintenance Squadron is located at Duke Filed, Florida, and is commanded by a Lieutenant Colonel (OF-4).

4.9     209th Special Operations Civil Engineer Squadron

592nd Special Operations Maintenance SquadronThe 209th Special Operations Civil Engineer Squadron is a located at Gulfport, Mississippi, and is commanded by a Lieutenant Colonel (OF-4).

It is AFSOC’s only Air National Guard civil engineer squadron supporting the command’s transportable collective protection system mission.

The role of the 209th Special Operations Civil Engineer Squadron is threefold:

  1. Provide specially trained civil engineer teams to set-up, maintain and operate AFSOC’s unique Collectively Protected Small Shelter Systems (CPSSS-3) and the High Mobility Decontamination System (HMDS) UTC’s.
  2. Provide fire protection and management, and incident command and operations teams in support of USAF operations worldwide through the Fire and Emergency Services Flight.
  3. Support planning and crisis operations for Theatre HQs, joint task forces and contingency operating locations.

4.10     280th Special Operations Communications Squadron

The 280th Special Operations Communications Squadron is located at Dothan, Alabama, and is commanded by a Lieutenant Colonel (OF-4). It is an Air National Guard unit.

The role of the 280th Special Operations Communications Squadron is to provide communications and information systems for command and control of SOF worldwide, as well as respond to state emergencies as directed by the governor.

5.0     Special Operations Wings

AFSOC currently has seven Special Operations Wings under its command, which include:

  • Active Duty (Regular):
    • 1st Special Operations Wing: located at Hurlburt Field, Florida.
    • 24th Special Operations Wing: located at Hurlburt Field, Florida.
    • 27th Special Operations Wing: located at Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico.
    • 352nd Special Operations Wing: located at RAF Mildenhall, United Kingdom.
  • Reserve:
    • 919th Special Operations Wing: located at Duke Field, Florida.
  • Air National Guard:
    • 137th Special Operations Wing: located at Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
    • 193rd Special Operations Wing: located at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

5.1     1st Special Operations Wing

The 1st Special Operations Wing is located at Hurlburt Field, Florida, and is commanded by a Colonel (OF-5). The Commander 1st Special Operations Wing is assisted by the Vice-Commander, also a Colonel, and the Wing Command Chief, a Chief Master Sergeant (OR-9).

Both the 1st Special Operations Wing and 27th Special Operations Wing are composed of specialised aircraft to support special operations worldwide.

The broad mission of the 1st Special Operations Wing is to rapidly plan and execute specialised and contingency operations in support of US national priorities. Its core missions include:

  • Close air support;
  • Precision aerospace firepower;
  • Specialised aerospace mobility;
  • Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) operations; and
  • Agile combat support.

At Hurlburt Field there are approximately 10,500 personnel (8,500 military and 2,000 civilian).

The 1st Special Operations Wing is organised into four groups, each consisting of a number of units:

  • 1st Special Operations Group:
    • 1st Special Operations Group, Detachment 1.
    • 1st Special Operations Support Squadron.
    • 4th Special Operations Squadron, AC-130U Spooky Gunship.
    • 8th Special Operations Squadron, CV-22 Osprey.
    • 11th Special Operations Intelligence Squadron.
    • 15th Special Operations Squadron, MC-130H Combat Talon II.
    • 23rd Special Operations Weather Squadron.
    • 34th Special Operations Squadron, U-28A.
    • 319th Special Operations Squadron, U-28A.
  • 1st Special Operations Maintenance Group:
    • 1st Special Operations Aircraft Maintenance Squadron.
    • 1st Special Operations Maintenance Squadron.
    • 801st Special Operations Aircraft Maintenance Squadron.
    • 901st Special Operations Aircraft Maintenance Squadron.
  • 1st Special Operations Mission Support Group:
    • 1st Special Operations Civil Engineer Squadron.
    • 1st Special Operations Communications Squadron.
    • 1st Special Operations Contracting Squadron.
    • 1st Special Operations Logistics Readiness Squadron.
    • 1st Special Operations Force Support Squadron.
    • 1st Special Operations Security Forces Squadron.
  • 1st Special Operations Medical Group:
    • 1st Special Operations Medical Operations Squadron.
    • 1st Special Operations Medical Support Squadron.
    • 1st Special Operations Aerospace Medicine Squadron.
    • 1st Special Operations Dental Squadron.

The 1st Special Operations Wing and Hurlburt Field also host 34 partner units from six major commands including AFSOC, USAF Special Operations Air Warfare Centre, USAF Special Operations School, 505th Command and Control Wing, 24th Special Operations Wing and the 823rd RED HORSE Squadron.

5.2     24th Special Operations Wing

The 24th Special Operations Wing is located at Hurlburt Field, Florida, and is commanded by a Colonel (OF-5). The Commander is assisted by the Vice-Commander, also Colonel, and a Command Chief, a Chief Master Sergeant (OR-9).

The Wing is USSOCOM’s tactical air and ground integration force and provides AFSOC with global access, precision strike and personnel recovery capabilities. It is the only Special Tactics Wing in the USAF with more than 1,400 assigned special operations battlefield airmen/women and combat support personnel encompassing 58 USAF specialties.

The broad mission of the 24th Special Operations Wing is to provide Special Tactics forces for rapid global employment to enable airpower success. Core missions include:

  • Airfield reconnaissance, assessment, and control;
  • Personnel recovery;
  • Joint terminal attack control and environmental reconnaissance.

Special Tactics operators are often the first special operations elements deployed into crisis situations. Special Tactics operators will often embed with US Navy SEALs, US Army Green Berets and US Army Rangers to provide everything from combat air support to medical aid and personnel recovery. As a result, Special Tactics is comprised of:

  • Special Tactics Officers;
  • Combat Controllers;
  • Combat Rescue Officers;
  • Pararescuemen;
  • Special Operations Weather Officers and Airmen;
  • Air Liaison Officers;
  • Tactical Air Control Party operators; and
  • A number of combat support Air personnel which compromise 58 Air Force specialties.

The 24th Special Operations Wing is composed of two operational groups, a training squadron; and nine special operations recruiting liaison operating locations, as outlined below:

  • 720th Special Tactics Group, Hurlburt Field, Florida:
    • 720th Special Tactics Group, Detachment 1, Hurlburt Field, Florida.
    • 17th Air Support Operations Squadron, Ft. Benning Georgia.
    • 21st Special Tactics Squadron, Pope Field, North Carolina.
    • 22nd Special Tactics Squadron, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington.
    • 23rd Special Tactics Squadron, Hurlburt Field, Florida.
    • 26th Special Tactics Squadron, Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico
    • 720th Operations Support Squadron, Hurlburt Field, Florida.
  • 724th Special Tactics Group, Pope Field, North Carolina:
    • 24th Special Tactics Squadron, Pope Field, North Carolina.
    • 724th Operations Support Squadron, Pope Field, North Carolina.
    • 724th Intelligence Squadron, Pope Field, North Carolina.
    • 724th Special Tactics Support Squadron, Pope Field, North Carolina.

The Special Tactics Training Squadron is located at Hurlburt Field, Florida. The role of the Special Tactics Training Squadron is twofold:

  1. Assess, select, train and develop combat controllers, special operations weathermen, pararescuemen and special operations qualified tactical air control party members for Wing.
  2. Provide initial joint terminal attack control training to US Army, US Marine Corps and US Air Force SOF.

The 123rd Special Tactics Squadron, based at Standiford Field in Kentucky, and the 125th Special Tactics Squadron, based at Portland International Airport in Oregan, are Air National Guard units which augment the 24th Special Operations Wing in support of US national security objectives, combat operations, humanitarian efforts and training.

5.3     27th Special Operations Wing

The 27th Special Operations Wing is located at Cannon Air Force Base (AFB), New Mexico, and is commanded by a Colonel (OF-5). The Commander is assisted by the Vice-Commander, also a Colonel, and the Wing Command Chief, a Chief Master Sergeant (OR-9).

Both the 27th Special Operations Wing and 1st Special Operations Wing are composed of specialised aircraft to support special operations worldwide. Since its establishment in 1940, the Wing’s title has witnessed a number of iterations with its latest title being designated on 01 October 2007, following a move to AFSOC.

The role of the 27th Special Operations Wing is to provide and enable precise, reliable, flexible and responsive specialised airpower for joint forces. It conducts this role through seven core missions:

  • Precision strike missions;
  • Direct action;
  • Unconventional warfare;
  • Counter-terrorism;
  • Personnel recovery;
  • Psychological operations and military information support operations; and
  • Specialised mobility and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) missions.

The 27th Special Operations Wing is organised into four groups and 24 squadrons operating a variety of aircraft (for example AC-130W, C-146, CV-22, MC-130J, MQ-1, MQ-9, PC-12 and U-28):

  • 27th Special Operations Group: Commanded by a Colonel (OF-5), provides a variety of specialised airpower missions including: lethal strike; ISR; fixed wing and tilt rotor battlefield mobility; helicopter aerial refuelling; and other specialised combat support missions.
    • 27th Special Operations Support Squadron, provides operational support to flight operations.
    • 3rd Special Operations Squadron, MQ-1 Predator.
    • 9th Special Operations Squadron, MC-130J Commando II.
    • 12th Special Operations Squadron, provides remotely piloted aircraft launch and recovery operations.
    • 16th Special Operations Squadron.
    • 20th Special Operations Squadron, CV-22 Osprey.
    • 33rd Special Operations Squadron, MQ-9 Reaper.
    • 56th Special Operations Intelligence Squadron, provides specialised intelligence support.
    • 73rd Special Operations Squadron, AC-130W Stinger II.
    • 318th Special Operations Squadron, U-28A.
    • 524th Special Operations Squadron, C-146A Wolfhound
  • 27th Special Operations Maintenance Group: Commanded by a Colonel (OF-5), provides aircraft maintenance support for a variety of special operations aircraft. The group has approximately 1,800 military and civilian personnel across three Maintenance Squadrons and a Maintenance Operations staff.
    • 27th Special Operations Maintenance Squadron, Accessories, AGE, Armament, Avionics, CV-22 Phase, Fabrication, Hydraulics, Maintenance Flight and Munitions.
    • 27th Special Operations Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, 9th AUM, 16th AMU and 73rd AMU.
    • 727th Special Operations Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, 3rd AMU and 20th AMU
  • 27th Special Operations Mission Support Group: Commanded by a Colonel (OF-5), provides base support and services activities to ensure mission readiness of the Wing.
    • 27th Special Operations Civil Engineer Squadron.
    • 27th Special Operations Communications Squadron.
    • 27th Special Operations Contracting Squadron.
    • 27th Special Operations Force Support Squadron.
    • 27th Special Operations Logistics Readiness Squadron.
    • 27th Special Operations Security Forces Squadron
  • 27th Special Operations Medical Group: Commanded by a Colonel (OF-5), provides medical care (medical readiness and force health protection) to the Wing and population in the Northeast region of New Mexico and the panhandle of Northern Texas. The group has approximately 300 personnel.
    • 27th Special Operations Aerospace Medicine Squadron, Bioenvironmental, Dental and Optometry.
    • 27th Special Operations Medical Operations Squadron, Family Medicine, Mental Health and ADAPT.
    • 27th Special Operations Medical Support Squadron, Pharmacy and Radiology.
  • 27th Special Operations Air Operations Squadron: Provides command and control, and range operations.
  • 27th Special Operations Comptroller Squadron: Provides financial management and budgetary support.

The workforce at Cannon AFB consists of approximately 5,800 to 6,000 military and civilian personnel.

The Melrose Air Force Range training area, which is located 25 miles west of Cannon AFB is approximately 70,000 acres of land and 2,500 square miles of airspace, is utilised for a variety of training such as air to ground, small arms and electronic combat.

5.4     352nd Special Operations Wing

Logo, USAF, AFSOC, 352nd Special Operations WingThe 352nd Special Operations Wing is located at Royal Air Force (RAF) Mildenhall, United Kingdom, and is commanded by a Colonel (OF-5). The Commander is assisted by a Vice-Commander, also a Colonel, and the Wing Command Chief, a Chief Master Sergeant (OR-9).

The 352nd Special Operations Wing is the Air Force component for Special Operations Command Europe, and is the only Air Force special operations unit in the US European Command. It has approximately 1,100-1,200 personnel (up from 750 in 2013 (Comer, 2013)), as well approximately 50 personnel attached/associated as members of the Joint Special Operations Air Component-Europe and Detachment 2 of the 25th Intelligence Squadron.

Under the operational control of Special Operations Command Europe, the role of the 352nd Special Operations Wing is twofold:

  1. Plan and perform specialised operations using advanced aircraft, tactics and air refuelling techniques to transport and resupply military forces.
  2. Provide tilt-rotor aircraft aerial refuelling and special operations weather capabilities.

The 352nd Special Operations Wing is comprised of two groups and six squadrons and two different types of aircraft, the MC-130J Commando II and the CV-22B Osprey (a tilt-rotor aircraft, which arrived on station in June 2013), which includes:

  • 752nd Special Operations Group: It is responsible for planning and executing specialised and contingency operations using advanced aircraft, tactics and air refuelling techniques to infiltrate, ex-filtrate and resupply special operations forces.
  • 352nd Special Operations Support Squadron: Provides in-garrison and deployed command and control and operational support for two flying squadrons, one special tactics squadron and one maintenance squadron. The support includes exercise, logistics and contingency planning; aircrew training; communications; aerial delivery; medical; intelligence; security and force protection; weather; information technologies and current operations.
  • 352nd Special Operations Maintenance Group: Provides all operational maintenance on the MC-130J Commando II and the CV-22B Osprey aircraft assigned to the two special operations flying squadrons.
    • 352nd Special Operations Maintenance Squadron: Provides all organisational and intermediate level maintenance on the fleet of CV-22B Osprey aircraft assigned. The squadron also provides management for the group’s engine and equipment inventories.
    • 352nd Special Operations Aircraft Maintenance Squadron: Provides all organisational and intermediate-level maintenance for the fleet of MC-130J Commando IIs.
  • 7th Special Operations Squadron: Operates the CV-22B Osprey, executing night, adverse weather, long-range troop transport and resupply operations into potentially hazardous areas. The squadron also supports non-combatant evacuation, humanitarian relief and other operations. The Ospreys are employed using a combination of terrain-following radar, high-precision avionics and sensors, and electronic countermeasures.
  • 67th Special Operations Squadron: Operates the MC-130J Commando II to provide specialised air mobility. Utilising night vision goggles, the aircraft penetrate potentially hazardous areas to conduct single-or multi-ship infiltration, exfiltration, and resupply of SOF via airdrop or air/land operations, and conduct long range refuelling operations of SOF vertical lift assets. The squadron also supports information operations, humanitarian relief, medical evacuations and non-combatant evacuations.
  • 321st Special Tactics Squadron: Provides a fast reaction, rapidly-deployable force capable of establishing and providing positive control of the air-to-ground interface during special operations or conventional missions. Unit combat controllers and pararescuemen conduct the reconnaissance, surveillance, assessment and establishment of assault zone sites and provide air traffic control and long-range secure command and control communications. Additionally, the squadron provides combat trauma medical care, personnel recovery and terminal attack control of munitions delivered by fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft. The squadron also has special operations weathermen assigned to provide weather support for other military forces.

5.5     919th Special Operations Wing

The 919th Special Operations Wing is located at Duke Field, Florida, and is commanded by a Colonel (OF-5). The Commander is assisted by a Vice-Commander, also a Colonel, and the Wing Command Chief, a Chief Master Sergeant (OR-9. It is the only special operations wing in the US Air Force Reserve.

The role of the 919th Special Operations Wing is twofold:

  1. Provide operations and maintenance personnel to support the aviation foreign internal defence and combat aviation advisor programmes for AFSOC through the use of the C-145A aircraft.
  2. Conduct U-28 and C-145A formal training unit flight instruction through a classic association with the AFSOAWC.

The 919th Special Operations Wing employs approximately 1,300 Reservists. Air Reserve Technicians, commonly referred to as ARTs, are the nucleus of the Wing, providing management continuity to keep the units combat ready. ARTs carry dual status as full-time civil service employees for the USAF who, as a condition of employment, must participate as Reservists. More than 280 ARTs and 35 civilians support the Wing in day-to-day operations. The Wing is organised as follows:

  • 919th Special Operations Group: Commanded by a Colonel (OF-5):
    • 2nd Special Operations Squadron: Located at Hurlburt Field in Florida, employs the MQ-1 Predator although it is transitioning (or has transitioned) to the MQ-9 Reaper.
    • 5th Special Operations Squadron: Located at Hurlburt Field, Florida. It provides an instructor cadre for AFSOC’s U-28 and Combat Aviation Advisor programmes, also intra-theatre support to SOF worldwide in support of National Command Authorities tasks. Although personnel perform their duties at Hurlburt Field, the squadron administratively falls under the 919th Special Operations Wing.
    • 711th Special Operations Squadron.
    • 919th Special Operations Support Squadron.
  • 919th Special Operations Maintenance Group: Commanded by a Colonel (OF-5):
    • 919th Special Operations Maintenance Squadron.
    • 919th Special Operations Aircraft Maintenance Squadron.
    • 919th Maintenance Operations Flight.
  • 919th Special Operations Mission Support Group: Commanded by a Colonel (OF-5):
    • 919th Special Operations Civil Engineer Squadron.
    • 919th Special Operations Security Forces Squadron.
    • 919th Special Operations Communications Squadron.
    • 919th Special Operations Logistics Readiness Squadron.
    • 919th Special Operations Force Support Squadron.
  • 919th Special Operations Medical Squadron.

5.6     137th Special Operations Wing

The 137th Special Operations Wing is located at Will Rogers Air National Guard Base in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and is commanded by a Colonel (OF-5) (Creech, 2015). It is one of two Air National Guard units, and joined AFSOC in 2015 being retitled (and rerolled) from the 137th Air Refuelling Wing (Creech, 2015).

The role of the 137th Special Operations Wing is to provide ISR support directly to ground forces serving overseas. This role is enabled through the use of the MC-12W, a medium-to-low altitude, twin-engine turboprop aircraft.

Units of the 137th Special Operations Wing include:

  • 185th Air Refuelling Squadron: Commanded by a Lieutenant Colonel (OF-4).

5.7     193rd Special Operations Wing

193rd Special Operations Wing is located at Harrisburg International Airport, Pennsylvania, and is commanded by a Colonel (OF-5). The Commander is assisted by the Wing Command Chief, a Chief Master Sergeant (OR-9). It is one of two Air National Guard units.

The 193rd Special Operations Wing provides the only airborne psychological operations platform in the Department of Defence, currently the EC-130 Commando Solo.

The Wing is organised as follows:

  • 112th Air Operations Squadron: The role of the squadron is to provide ready, relevant, and reliable command and control personnel to integrate with Air Operations Centres (AOC) worldwide and prepared to support the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania as required. The AOC is the air Component Commander’s HQ during an air campaign.
  • 148th Air Support Operations Squadron: Provides combat-ready Tactical Air Control Parties for combat manoeuvre units of the 28th Infantry Division, including the 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team. The squadron’s primary role is to provide mission planning of direct combat air support and operate and supervise communications nets to support USAF air resources and Army ground manoeuvre units.
  • 201st Red Horse Squadron: The role of the squadron is to directly support combat air power and provide Commander in Chiefs, Federal and State authorities a flexible, well-rounded, heavy construction and repair capability.
  • 203rd Weather Flight: Is a small, elite unit that analyses and predicts atmospheric conditions for pilots, war planners and decision makers.
  • 211th Engineering Installation Squadron: The role squadron is to engineer, install, and relocate fixed command, control, communications, and computer (C4) systems in facilities.
  • 271st Combat Communications Squadron: The role of the squadron is to deploy, operate and maintain tactical communications packages in support of USAF missions worldwide, or civil and disaster-relief missions within the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The squadron can provide command and control satellite nets, intra-site telephone services, data services, tactical switchboard, communications centre operations, network, and multi-site voice communications.
  • 553rd Air Force Band: The Air National Guard Band of the Northeast.
  • Lighting Force Academy: The Academy is committed to developing the level of knowledge and skill needed to train personnel (both Active Duty and Air National Guard) to support the engineering installation role.
  • Regional Equipment Operators Training Site (REOTS): The role of the REOTS is to provide additional readiness training for upgrading proficiency levels of civil engineer heavy equipment operators, throughout the Department of Defence.

5.8     Other Air National Guard units of AFSOC

Other Air National Guard units of AFSOC include:

  • 123rd Special Tactics Squadron: Located at Standiford Field, Kentucky, it provides combat controllers and pararescuemen for worldwide operational needs.
  • 125th Special Tactics Squadron: Located at Portland International Airport, Oregan, it provides combat controllers and pararescuemen for worldwide operational needs.
  • 107th Weather Flight: Located at Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Michigan, it is one of AFSOC’s three Air National Guard weather units.
  • 146th Weather Flight: Located at GTR Pittsburgh Air Guard Station, it is one of AFSOC’s three Air National Guard weather units.
  • 181st Weather Flight: Located at Dallas Naval Air Station, it is one of AFSOC’s three Air National Guard weather units.

6.0     353rd Special Operations Group

Logo, USAF, AFSOC, 353rd Special Operations WingThe 353rd Special Operations Group is located at Kadena Air Base, Japan, and is commanded by a Colonel (OF-5). The Commander is assisted by a Deputy Commander, also a Colonel, and the Group Command Chief, a Chief Master Sergeant (OR-9).

The role of the 353rd Special Operations Group is fourfold:

  1. Provide air support of joint and allied SOF in the Pacific.
  2. Participates in Pacific theatre exercises as directed.
  3. Support humanitarian and relief operations.
  4. Develop wartime and contingency plans, which effectively use the full range of fixed wing capabilities, to include the infiltration, exfiltration, and resupply of US and allied SOF.

The primary peacetime responsibility of the 353rd SOG is to oversee the training and maintenance of its assigned units. The 353rd Special Operations Group is the Air Force component for Special Operations Command Pacific (SOCPAC), a sub-unified command to the US Pacific Command.

The 353rd Special Operations Group has approximately 750-800 personnel and is comprised of five squadrons and one detachment:

  • 1st Special Operations Squadron: Operates the MC-130H Combat Talon II aircraft in support of joint and allied SOF.
  • 17th Special Operations Squadron: Operates the MC-130P Combat Shadow. The primary mission of this aircraft is to aerial refuel special operations helicopters. It is also capable of day and night low-level delivery of troops and equipment via airdrop or airland operations. Just as the aircrews of the Combat Talon, these crews are trained in NVG flying.
  • 43rd Intelligence Squadron, Detachment 1: Provides dedicated, real-time threat warning and enhanced situational awareness in support of AFSOC. The unit serves as the conduit between the USAF Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Agency and provides maintenance and support to the group.
  • 320th Special Tactics Squadron: Provides pararescuemen and combat controllers for the establishment of drop and landing zones, air traffic control to the landing zone, combat medical care and evacuation, and combat search and rescue for both fixed and rotary wing assets.
  • 353rd Special Operations Support Squadron: Operates the logistics and operations planning support functions for the entire group, and also contains and maintains all of the communications assets assigned to the group. The squadron also contains the intelligence function for the group. In contingency operations and wartime actions, the squadron becomes the group commander’s combat staff.
  • 353rd Special Operations Maintenance Squadron: Provides the majority of off-aircraft and ‘back shop’ maintenance for the assets of the group, and also contains the majority of the supply function for the group.

7.0     Useful Links

  • MacDill Air Force Base: http://www.macdill.af.mil/
  • US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM): http://www.socom.mil/
  • US Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC): www.afsoc.af.mil
  • Hurlburt Field: http://www.hurlburt.af.mil/
  • 24th Special Operations Wing: http://www.24sow.af.mil/
  • Cannon Air Force Base: http://www.cannon.af.mil/
  • 352nd Special Operations Wing: http://www.352sow.af.mil/
  • 353rd Special Operations Group: http://www.353sog.af.mil/
  • 193rd Special Operations Wing: http://www.193sow.ang.af.mil/
  • 919th Special Operations Wing: http://www.919sow.afrc.af.mil/
  • Pope Field: www.pope.af.mil/
  • 137th Air Refuelling Wing: http://www.137arw.ang.af.mil/

8.0     References

Baldor, L.C. (2015) US Special Operators Say No to Women in Special Operations Jobs. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.military.com/daily-news/2015/12/11/us-special-operators-say-no-to-women-in-special-operations-jobs.html. [Accessed: 07 January, 2016].

Comer, R. (2013) Air Force Special Operations (AFSOC) 2012-2013. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.defensemedianetwork.com/stories/afsoc-year-in-review-2013/5/. [Accessed: 20 January, 2016].

Creech, J. (2015) Oklahoma Air National Guard Unit Begins Transition to Special Operations Wing with Arrival of First MC-12W. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.137arw.ang.af.mil/news/story.asp?id=123454703. [Accessed: 20 January, 2016].

Feickert, A. (2015) U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF): Background and Issues for Congress. Washington, D.C.: Congressional Research Service.

Machina, F. (2014) Resourcing Special Operations. Available from World Wide Web: www.asmconline.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/30-Machina.pdf. [Accessed: 16 December, 2015].

Pellerin, C. (2015) SecDef Opens all Military Occupations to Women. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.therecruiterjournal.com/secdef-opens-all-military-occupations-to-women.html. [Accessed: 04 December, 2015].

Robinson, L. (2013) Council Special Report No.66. The Future of U.S. Special Operations Forces. New York, NY: Council on Foreign Relations.

USSOCOM (US Special Operations Command) (2015a) USSOCOM Fact Book 2016. Tampa, Florida: USSOCOM.

Vogel, J.L. (2015) Statement of General Joseph L. Vogel, U.S. Army Commander United States Special Operations Command before the House Armed Services Committee, Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities, March 18, 2015. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.socom.mil/Documents/2015%20USSOCOM%20Posture%20Statement.pdf. [Accessed: 29 December, 2015].

 

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