1st Special Operations Wing
The 1st Special Operations Wing, at Hurlburt Field, Fla., is the largest special operations wing in the Air Force Special Operations Command.
The 1 SOW mission is to organize, train and equip Air Force special operations forces for global employment. It focuses on unconventional warfare, including counter-insurgency and psychological operations during low intensity conflicts.
The 1 SOW falls under the Air Force Special Operations Command, the air arm of the U.S. Special Operations Command at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla. At the direction of the National Command Authority, the 1 SOW deploys with specially trained and equipped forces from each service, working as a team to support national security objectives. Special operations are often undertaken in enemy controlled areas and can cover a myriad of activities. Special operations allows the United States to better protect its interests in low-intensity conflicts throughout the world.
The 1 SOW manages a fleet of more than 80 aircraft with a military and civilian work force of more than 8,000 people. There are nine flying squadrons and six maintenance squadrons
The primary missions of the AC-130 gunship are close air support, air interdiction and force protection. Missions in close air support are troops in contact, convoy escort and urban operations. Air interdiction missions are conducted against preplanned targets or targets of opportunity. Force protection missions include air base defense and facilities defense.
These heavily armed aircraft incorporate side-firing weapons integrated with sophisticated sensor, navigation and fire control systems to provide surgical firepower or area saturation during extended loiter periods, at night and in adverse weather. The sensor suite consists of a television sensor, infrared sensor and radar. These sensors allow the gunship to visually or electronically identify friendly ground forces and targets – Any Time, Any Place. The AC-130U employs synthetic aperture strike radar for long-range target detection and identification. The gunship’s navigational devices include the inertial navigation systems and global positioning system. The AC-130U employs the latest technologies and can attack two targets simultaneously. It also has twice the munitions capacity of the AC-130H.
The AC-130H’s call sign is “Spectre.” The AC-130U’s call sign is “Spooky.” The U-model is the third generation of C-130 gunships. All gunships evolved from the first operational gunship, the AC-47, used in Vietnam in the mid-1960s. The AC-130 gunship has a combat history dating to Vietnam. Gunships destroyed more than 10,000 trucks and were credited with many life-saving close air support missions. During Operation Urgent Fury in Grenada in 1983, AC-130s suppressed enemy air defense systems and attacked ground forces enabling the successful assault of the Point Salines Airfield via airdrop and air land of friendly forces. The aircrew earned the Lt. Gen. William H. Tunner Award for the mission. AC-130s had a primary role during Operation Just Cause in Panama in 1989, when they destroyed Panamanian Defense Force Headquarters and numerous command and control facilities.
Aircrews earned the Mackay Trophy for the most meritorious flight of the year and the Tunner Award for their efforts. During Operation Desert Storm, AC-130s provided close air support and force protection (air base defense) for ground forces. Gunships were also used during operations Continue Hope and United Shield in Somalia, providing close air support for United Nations ground forces. Gunships also played a pivotal role in supporting the NATO mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The AC-130H provided air interdiction against key targets in the Sarajevo area.
In 1997, gunships were diverted from Italy to provide combat air support for U.S. and Allied ground troops during the evacuation of American noncombatants in Albania. Gunships also were part of the buildup of U.S. forces in 1998 to convince Iraq to comply with U.N. weapons inspections. More recently, both aircraft have been employed in support of Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom. Gunships provided armed reconnaissance, interdiction and direct support of ground troops engaged with enemy forces.
The MC-130E Combat Talon I and MC-130H Combat Talon II provide infiltration, exfiltration and resupply of special operations forces and equipment in hostile or denied territory. Secondary missions include psychological operations and helicopter air refueling. The Combat Shadow flies clandestine or low visibility, single or multi-ship, low-level missions intruding politically sensitive or hostile territory to provide air refueling for special operations helicopters.
The MC-130P primarily flies missions at night to reduce probability of visual acquisition and intercept by airborne threats. Secondary mission capabilities may include airdrop of leaflets, small special operations teams, bundles and combat rubber raiding craft, as well as night vision goggles, takeoff and landing procedures and in-flight refueling as a receiver.
Both aircraft features terrain-following and terrain-avoidance radars capable of operations as low as 250 feet in adverse weather conditions. Structural changes to a basic C-130 include the addition of an in-flight refueling receptacle, and strengthening of the tail to allow high speed/ low-signature airdrop. Their navigation suites include dual ring-laser gyros, mission computers and integrated global positioning system. They can locate, and either land or airdrop on small, unmarked zones with pinpoint accuracy day or night.
An extensive electronic warfare suite enables the aircrew to detect and avoid potential threats. If engaged, the system will protect the aircraft from both radar and infrared-guided threats. Currently, the MC-130E is equipped with aerial refueling pods to provide in-flight refueling of Special Operations Forces and combat search and rescue helicopters.
The MC-130H will be modified to provide this capability in the near future. The primary difference between the MC-130E and MC-130H involves the degree of integration of the mission computers and avionics suite. The Combat Talon I was conceived originally and developed during the 1960s, and although extensively upgraded in the 1980s-90s it still features analog instrumentation and does not fully integrate the sensors and communications suites. The Combat Talon II, designed in the 1980s, features an integrated glass flight deck which improves crew coordination and reduces the crew complement by two.
Recent modifications to the MC-130P feature improved navigation, communications, threat detection and countermeasures systems. The Combat Shadow fleet has a fully-integrated inertial navigation and global positioning system, and night vision goggle compatible interior and exterior lighting. It also has forward looking infrared, radar and missile warning receivers, chaff and flare dispensers, night vision goggle compatible heads-up display, satellite and data-burst communications, as well as in-flight refueling capability as a receiver (on 15 aircraft).
The Combat Shadow can fly in the day against a low threat. The crews fly night low-level, air refueling and formation operations using night vision goggles. To enhance the probability of mission success and survivability near populated areas, employment tactics incorporate no external lighting and no communications to avoid radar and weapons detection.
MH-53J/M PAVE LOW
The PAVE LOW’s mission is low-level, long-range, undetected penetration into denied areas, day or night, in adverse weather, for infiltration, exfiltration and resupply of special operations forces.
The MH-53J PAVE LOW III heavy-lift helicopter is the largest, most powerful and technologically advanced helicopter in the Air Force inventory. The terrain following and terrain-avoidance radar, forward-looking infrared sensor, inertial navigation system with global positioning system, along with a projected map display, enable the crew to follow terrain contours and avoid obstacles, making low-level penetration possible. The MH-53M PAVE LOW IV is a Jmodel that has been modified with the Interactive Defensive Avionics System/ Multi-Mission Advanced Tactical Terminal or IDAS/MATT. The system enhances present defensive capabilities of the PAVE LOW. It provides instant access to the total battlefield situation, through near real-time Electronic Order of Battle updates. It also provides a new level of detection avoidance with near real-time threat broadcasts over-the-horizon, so crews can avoid and defeat threats, and re-plan en route if needed.
Under the PAVE LOW III program, the Air Force modified nine MH-53Hs and 32 HH-53s for night and adverse weather operations. Modifications included forward- looking infrared, inertial global positioning system, Doppler navigation systems, terrain-following and terrain avoidance radar, an on-board computer and integrated avionics to enable precise navigation to and from target areas. The Air Force designated these modified versions as MH-53Js.
The CV-22’s mission is to conduct long-range infiltration, exfiltration and resupply missions for special operations forces.
This versatile, self-deployable aircraft offers increased speed and range over other rotary-wing aircraft, enabling Air Force Special Operations Command aircrews to execute long-range special operations missions in one period of darkness. The CV-22 can perform missions that normally would require both fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft. The CV-22 is equipped with integrated threat countermeasures, terrain-following radar, forward-looking infrared radar and other advanced avionics systems that allow it to operate at low altitude in adverse weather conditions and medium to high-threat environments.
The CV-22 is an Air Force-modified version of the V-22 Osprey transport/ utility aircraft. The first two Air Force test aircraft were delivered to Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., in September, 2000, for flight testing.
The 58th Special Operations Wing at Kirtland AFB, N.M., began CV-22 aircrew training with the first two production aircraft in August, 2006. The first two operational CV-22s were delivered to Air Force Special Operations Command’s 1st Special Operations Wing at Hurlburt Field, Fla., in fiscal 2007. Initial operating capability is scheduled for fiscal 2009. A total of 50 CV-22 aircraft will be delivered by fiscal 2017.