Air Force Special Operations Command

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On 22 May 1990, the Twenty-third Air Force was redesignated the Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC). Its aircraft typically operate in denied areas, but, in contrast to most Air Force units, it also has specialists that join in ground operations, behind enemy lines. AFSOC is the Air Component of United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM).

Perhaps the oldest AFSOC mission is delivering and supporting special operators behind enemy lines, a function that began in the Second World War. Today, fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft can get into hostile territory in darkness, in severe weather, and at very low or very high altitude. Using the AC-130 SPECTRE, they can direct fire support to teams they infiltrated. MC-130 COMBAT TALONs, being replaced by the MC-130 COMBAT SPEAR dropped the largest conventional bombs of the Gulf War, as well as refueling helicopters, and, with the COMBAT SPEAR, V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft. MC-130 COMBAT SHADOW refuel helicopters and drop psychological warfare leaflets.

This new major command consisted of three wings--the 1st, 39th and 353rd Special Operations Wings--as well as the 1720th Special Tactics Group (STG), the U.S. Air Force Special Operations School, and the Special Missions Operational Test Shielded Evaluation Center. This structure would not stay static, as Air Force special operations, at times, seems to reorganize almost as frequently as its units deploy.

With the breakup of the Soviet Union, Air Force Special Operations Command began changing its readiness posture from one geared to countering the Soviet threat to one of cooperative engagements and peace enforcement activities.

Rescue comes...and goes

AFSOC welcomed the movement of the USAF's continental U.S.-based active and reserve rescue forces from Air Combat Command (ACC) effective 1 October 2003. On 25 February 2006, General T. Michael Moseley, Chief of Staff of the Air Force, announced his decision to move the USAF's combat search and rescue (CSAR) assets from AFSOC back to Air Combat Command (ACC). General Moseley's decision to move rescue back to ACC centered around his vision of rescue's present position and where he envisioned its future.

Mosely's replacement, GEN Norton Schwartz, comes from AFSOC, as opposed to Moseley, a figther pilot; there may be new visions.

Special Tactics

The Special Tactics Group consists of Air Force personnel who routinely operate with ground combat special operations units. Their most common role is precise control of close air support, but they also include special operations weather specialists and combat air traffic controllers.

UAV capabilities

Despite the movement of CSAR back to ACC, AFSOC entered a period of growth in other mission areas. On 20 June 2006 Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld approved the transfer of Cannon Air Force Base and Melrose Range, New Mexico, to AFSOC. This transfer became effective on 1 October 2007 with the activation of the 27th Special Operations Wing. Additional mission growth continued throughout 2006 and 2007 to include: U-28 aircraft in April 2006, assigned to the 319 SOS; the llth lntelligence Squadron on 1 August 2006; and assumption of Predator unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) on 31 May 2007 from ACC, assigned to the 3 SOS.

In all, the command's rapid grouth and changes highlighted the importance and demand for SOF in the nation's global war on terrorism.

AFSOC Reorganizations

The number of deployments following Operation DESERT STORM were only exceeded by the number of organizational changes.

In January 1992, the 39th SOW relocated from Rhein-Main Air Base, Germany, to Royal Air Force (RAF) Alconbury, United Kingdom (UK). Later that year the 39th SOW was inactivated, and its personnel and equipment were reconstituted as the 352nd SOW. In December 1992, AFSOC redesignated both overseas wings as groups.

More reorganization occurred on Hurlburt Field to include the 1720th STG becoming the 720th STG in March 1992; the transfer of ownership of Hurlburt Field from Air Mobility Command (AMC), and formerly MAC) to AFSOC in October 1992, followed by the merger of the 834th Air Base Wing (ABW) into the 1st SOW which assumed host unit responsibilities. A year later the 1st SOW became the 16th SOW in a move to preserve Air Force heritage.

The Special Missions Operational Test and Evaluation Center (SMOTEC), which filled the unique role of exploring new heavy lift frontiers in special operations capabilities, while pursuing better equipment and tactics development, was also reorganized and designated the 18th Flight Test Squadron.

Additionally, on 16 November 2006, Hurlburt retumed to its rightful heritage by redesignating the 16th SOW back to the 1st SOW.

Information operations

EC-130 COMMANDO SOLO aircraft from the 193rd SOW can broadcast on commercial radio and television channels, or jam other stations. The MC-130 COMBAT TALON can drop psychological warfare leaflets, and the AC-130 SPECTRE provides armed reconnaissance.

Intelligence

AFSOC contains the 3rd Special Operations Squadron, which operates the MQ-1 Predator unmanned aerial vehicles and other airborne intelligence and surveillance sources. The Predator is a medium-altitude, long-endurance, remotely piloted aircraft.

Data from these and other platforms are received and disseminated by the 11th Intelligence Squadron.

Foreign aircraft qualifcation

By the year 2000, the 6th SOS would receive qualification training on several dissimilar aircraft to include Russian made Mi-17 helicopter, An-26 and An-32 aircraft, while also seeing its core mission area expanded.