Air Force Special Operations Command
|United States Air Force Special Operations Command|
Air Force Special Operations Command Emblem
|Active||22 May 1990 – present|
|Country||United States of America|
|Branch||United States Air Force|
|Role||Conduct global special operations missions ranging from precision application of firepower to infiltration, aviation foreign internal defense, exfiltration, resupply and refueling of SOF operational elements|
|Part of||United States Special Operations Command|
|Garrison/HQ||Hurlburt Field, Florida|
|Motto||"Any Time, Any Place"|
|Lieutenant General Bradley Heithold|
United States Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) is the special operations component of the United States Air Force and the U.S. Air Force component command to the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), a unified combatant command located at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida. AFSOC provides Air Force Special Operations Forces (SOF) for worldwide deployment and assignment to regional unified combatant commands.
AFSOC was initially established on 10 February 1983 as Twenty-Third Air Force (23 AF), a subordinate numbered air force of the Military Airlift Command (MAC), with 23 AF headquarters established at Hurlburt Field, Florida.
On 22 May 1990, 23 AF was redesignated as AFSOC and became a separate major command (MAJCOM) responsible for all USAF special operations forces (SOF), aircraft and personnel in the Regular Air Force, and the operational "gaining command" for all USAF SOF, aircraft and personnel in the Air Force Reserve (AFRES)...AFRES subsequently being redesignated the Air Force Reserve Command (AFRC) in 1997...and the Air National Guard (ANG).
- 1 Predecessor special operations
- 2 Lineage
- 3 Units
- 4 History
- 5 Commanders
- 6 Contingency operations
- 7 Gallery
- 8 See also
- 9 Notes
- 10 Further reading
- 11 External links
Predecessor special operations
World War II
- 1st Air Commando Group: Late 1943 - November 1945
- Air Resupply and Communications Service: 23 February 1951 - 12 October 1956
- Combined Command Reconnaissance Activities, Korea: December 1951 - December 1953
- B Flight, 6167th Operations Squadron: 1 April 1952 - 31 December 1953
- 6004th Air Intelligence Service Squadron: c. March 1951 - 1955
- 6006th Air Intelligence Service Squadron: c. 1953 - 1955
- 22nd Crash Rescue Boat Squadron: c. July 1952 - 1954
- 581st Air Supply and Communications Wing: July 1951 - September 1955
Early Cold War era
- 129th Air Resupply Group: April 1955 - c. 1975
- 130th Air Resupply Group: October 1955 - c. 1960
- 135th Air Resupply Group: August 1955 - c. 1971
- 143rd Special Operations Group: November 1955 - 1975
- 1045th Observation, Evaluation, and Training Group: 23 February 1951 - 1 January 1954
Vietnam War era
- Operation Waterpump
Late Cold War era
- Established as Twenty-Third Air Force on 10 February 1983
- Activated on 1 March 1983
- Redesignated Air Force Special Operations Command, with the status of a major command, on 22 May 1990
- Tactical Air Command, April 1961 - 9 February 1983
- Military Airlift Command, 10 February 1983 – 22 May 1990
- Air Forces Special Operations (later, 623d Air and Space Operations Center): 13 Dec 2005 – 1 Jan 2008
- Twenty-Third Air Force (Air Forces Special Operations Forces): 1 Jan 2008 – 4 April 2013
- AFSOC Operations Center: 4 April 2013 – present
- 2d Air Division, 1 March 1983 – 1 February 1987
- Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Service, 1 March 1983 – 1 August 1989
- 1st Special Operations Wing (later, 16th Special Operations Wing; 1st Special Operations Wing), 1 February 1987 – present
- 24th Special Operations Wing, 12 June 2012 – present
- 27th Special Operations Wing, 1 Oct 2007 – present
- 41st Rescue and Weather Reconnaissance Wing, 1 October 1983 – 1 August 1989
- 352d Special Operations Wing, lineage from 39th Aerospace Rescue & Recovery Wing (later, 39th Special Operations Wing; 352d Special Operations Group), 1 October 1983 – present
- 353d Special Operations Group, lineage from 353d Special Operations Wing (later, 353d Special Operations Group), 6 April 1989 – present
- 375th Aeromedical Airlift Wing: 1 January 1984 – 1 February 1990
- 720th Special Tactics Group: 1 October 1987 – 12 June 2012
- 724th Special Tactics Group: 29 Apr 2011 – 12 June 2012
- 1550th Aircrew Training and Test Wing (later, 1550th Combat Crew Training Wing): 1 October 1983 – 21 May 1990
- USAF Special Operations School, 1 February 1987 – 22 May 1990
- Air Force Special Operations Training Center, 8 October 2008 - 11 February 2013
- Air Force Special Operations Air Warfare Center, 11 February 2013 - present 
- 23d Weather Squadron
- 1st Special Operations Support Squadron
- 4th Special Operations Squadron, AC-130U Spooky
- 8th Special Operations Squadron, CV-22B Osprey
- 9th Special Operations Squadron (GSU at Eglin AFB, Florida, MC-130P Combat Shadow
- 11th Intelligence Squadron
- Det 1, 11th Intelligence Squadron, Fort Bragg, North Carolina
- 15th Special Operations Squadron, MC-130H Combat Talon II
- 23d Special Operations Weather Squadron
- 34th Special Operations Squadron, U-28A
- 319th Special Operations Squadron, U-28A
- 17th Special Tactics Squadron, Fort Benning, Georgia
- 21st Special Tactics Squadron, Pope Field, North Carolina
- 22d Special Tactics Squadron, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington
- 23d Special Tactics Squadron, Hurlburt Field, Florida
- 26th Special Tactics Squadron, Cannon AFB, New Mexico
- 720th Operations Support Squadron
- 3d Special Operations Squadron, MQ-1 Predator
- 16th Special Operations Squadron, AC-130H Spectre
- 20th Special Operations Squadron, CV-22B Osprey
- 27th Special Operations Support Squadron
- 33d Special Operations Squadron, MQ-9 Reaper
- 43d Intelligence Squadron
- 56th Special Operations Intelligence Squadron
- 73d Special Operations Squadron, AC-130W Stinger II
- 318th Special Operations Squadron, U-28A, C-145A Skytruck
- 522d Special Operations Squadron, MC-130J Commando II
- 524th Special Operations Squadron C-146A
- 352d Special Operations Wing, RAF Mildenhall, United Kingdom (AFSOC support to USEUCOM, SOCEUR and USAFE)
- 6th Special Operations Squadron, UH-1N Iroquois, Mi-8, C-130E Hercules, An-26, C-47T
- 18th Flight Test Squadron
- Det 1, 18th Flight Test Squadron - GSU at Edwards AFB, California
- 19th Special Operations Squadron, AC-130, MC-130
- 371st Special Operations Combat Training Squadron
- 551st Special Operations Squadron, Cannon AFB, New Mexico
- United States Air Force Special Operations School, Hurlburt Field, Florida
Air National Guard units
- 193d Special Operations Wing, Pennsylvania Air National Guard, Harrisburg Air National Guard Base, Pennsylvania
- 123d Special Tactics Squadron, Kentucky Air National Guard, Louisville ANGB, Kentucky
- 125th Special Tactics Squadron, Oregon Air National Guard, Portland ANGB, Oregon
- 137th Special Operations Security Forces Squadron, Michigan Air National Guard, Selfridge ANGB, Michigan
- 280th Combat Communications Squadron, Alabama Air National Guard, Dothan Regional Airport ANGD, Alabama
- 209th Special Operations Civil Engineer Squadron, Mississippi Air National Guard, Gulfport Combat Readiness Training Center, Mississippi
- 107th Weather Flight, Michigan Air National Guard, Selfridge ANGB, Michigan
- 146th Weather Flight, Pennsylvania Air National Guard, Pittsburgh IAP Air Reserve Station, Pennsylvania
- 181st Weather Flight, Texas Air National Guard, NAS Fort Worth JRB/Carswell Field, Texas
Air Force Reserve Command units
Personnel and Resources
AFSOC has approximately 15,000 active-duty, Air Force Reserve, Air National Guard and civilian personnel.
The commander of AFSOC is Lieutenant General Bradley A. Heithold. Major General O.G. Mannon is Vice Commander, and Chief Master Sergeant Bill Turner is the Command Chief Master Sergeant, Air Force Special Operations Command.
The command's SOF units are composed of highly trained, rapidly deployable Airmen who are equipped with specialized aircraft. These forces conduct global special operations missions ranging from precision application of firepower, to infiltration, aviation foreign internal defense, exfiltration, resupply and refueling of SOF operational elements. The command's Special Tactics Squadrons are led by Special Tactics Officers (STOs). Special Tactics Squadrons combine Combat Controllers, TACP, Special Operations Weather Technicians, Pararescuemen and combat rescue officers to form versatile SOF teams. AFSOC's unique capabilities include airborne radio and television broadcast for psychological operations, as well as combat aviation advisors to provide other governments military expertise for their internal development.
Special Tactics is the US Air Force special operations ground force. Similar in ability and employment to Marine Special Operations Command (MARSOC), Army Special Forces and Navy SEALs, Air Force Special Tactics personnel are typically the first to enter combat and often find themselves deep behind enemy lines in demanding, austere conditions, usually with little or no support. Due to the rigors of the career field, Special Tactics' year-long training is one of the most demanding in the military, with attrition rates between 80 to 90 percent. In an attempt to reduce the high attrition, Special Tactics is very selective when choosing their officers. Special Tactics Officers (STO) undergo a highly competitive process to gain entry into the Special Tactics career field, ensuring only the most promising and capable leaders are selected. STO leadership and role modeling during the difficult training reduces the attrition rate for enlisted trainees.
STO selection is a two-phase process. Beginning with Phase One, a board of veteran STOs reviews application packages consisting of letters of recommendation, fitness test scores, and narratives written by the applicants describing their career aspirations and reasons for applying. Based on Phase One performance, approximately 8 to 10 applicants are invited to the next phase. Phase Two is a weeklong battery of evaluations, ranging from physical fitness and leadership to emotional intelligence and personality indicators. At the end of Phase Two, typically 2 to 4 applicants are selected to begin the year-plus Special Tactics training pipeline.
AFSOC operates the following aircraft as part of its regular inventory:
- AC-130H/U/W Spectre/Spooky/Stinger II
- CV-22B Osprey
- C-32 (Boeing 757)
- EC-130J Commando Solo
- MC-130E Combat Talon I / MC-130H Combat Talon II / MC-130J Commando II / MC-130P Combat Shadow
- C-145A Skytruck
- C-146A Wolfhound
- MQ-1 Predator
- MQ-9 Reaper
- RQ-11 Raven
- Scan Eagle
- Wasp III
Additionally, AFSOC units possess and operate a small number of the following aircraft for special training mission and Aviation Foreign Internal Defense missions:
Twenty-Third Air Force
In December 1982, the Air Force transferred responsibility for Air Force special operations from Tactical Air Command (TAC) to Military Airlift Command (MAC). Consequently, in March 1983, MAC activated Twenty-Third Air Force (23 AF) at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois. This new numbered air force's responsibilities included worldwide missions of special operations, combat rescue, weather reconnaissance and aerial sampling, security support for intercontinental ballistic missile sites, training of USAF helicopter and HC-130 crewmen, pararescue training, and medical evacuation.
Operation Urgent Fury
In October 1983, 23 AF participated in the successful rescue of Americans from the island nation of Grenada. During the seven day operation, centered at Point Salines Airport, 23 AF furnished MC-130s, AC-130s, aircrews, maintenance, and support personnel. An EC-130 from the 193rd Special Operations Wing of the Air National Guard (ANG), played a significant psy-war role. An MC-130 pilot from the 8th Special Operations Squadron won the MacKay Trophy for his actions in leading the air drop on the Point Salines Airport.
US Special Operations Command
In May 1986, the Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act led to the formation of the United States Special Operations Command. Senators William Cohen and Sam Nunn introduced the Senate bill, and the following month Congressman Dan Daniel introduced a like measure in the House of Representatives. The key provisions of the legislation formed the basis to amend the 1986 Defense Authorizations Bill. This bill, signed into law in October 1986, in part directed the formation of a unified command responsible for special operations. In April 1987 the DoD established the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, and Army GEN James J. Lindsay assumed command. Four months later, 23 AF moved to Hurlburt Field, Florida.
In August 1989, Gen Duane H. Cassidy, MAC Commander in Chief, divested 23rd AF of its non-special operations units. Thus, 23 AF served a dual role—still reporting to MAC, but also functioning as the air component to USSOCOM.
Operation Just Cause
From late December 1989 to early January 1990, 23 AF participated in the invasion of the Republic of Panama during Operation Just Cause. Special operations aircraft included both active duty and reserve AC-130 Spectre gunships, EC-130 Volant Solo psychological operations aircraft from the Air National Guard, HC-130P/N Combat Shadow tankers, MC-130E Combat Talons, and MH-53J Pave Low and MH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters. Special tactics Combat Controllers and Pararescuemen provided important support to combat units during this operation.
Spectre gunship crews of the 1st SOW earned the Mackay Trophy and Tunner Award for their efforts, a 919th SOG Spectre crew earned the President's Award, and a 1st SOW Combat Talon crew ferried the captured Panamanian President, Manuel Noriega, to prison in the United States. Likewise, the efforts of the 1st SOW maintenance people earned them the Daedalian Award.
On 22 May 1990, General Larry D. Welch, Air Force Chief of Staff, redesignated Twenty-Third Air Force as Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC). 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 and Evaluation Center.
Currently, after major redesignations and reorganizations, AFSOC direct reporting units include the 16th SOW, the 352nd Special Operations Group, the 353rd Special Operations Group, the 720th Special Tactics Group (STG), the USAF Special Operations School and the 18th Flight Test Squadron (FLTS). During the early 1990s a major reorganization occurred within AFSOC. The 1720th STG became 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.
Meanwhile, the Special Missions Operational Test and Evaluation Center (SMOTEC), which explored heavy lift frontiers in special operations capabilities, while pursuing better equipment and tactics development, was also reorganized. In April 1994, the Air Force, in an effort to standardize these types of organizations, redesignated SMOTEC as the 18th Flight Test Squadron.
From early August 1990 to late February 1991, AFSOC participated in Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm, the protection of Saudi Arabia and liberation of Kuwait. Special tactics personnel operated throughout the theater on multiple combat control and combat rescue missions. Special operations forces performed direct action missions, combat search and rescue, infiltration, exfiltration, air base ground defense, air interdiction, special reconnaissance, close air support, psychological operations, and helicopter air refuelings. Pave Low crews led the helicopter assault on radars to blind Iraq at the onset of hostilities, and they also accomplished the deepest rescue for which they received the Mackay Trophy.
Combat Talons dropped the largest conventional bombs of the war and, along with Combat Shadows, dropped the most psy-war leaflets. The AC-130s provided valuable fire support and armed reconnaissance, but they also suffered the single greatest combat loss of coalition air forces with the shooting down of Spirit 03. All fourteen crew members aboard were lost.
In December 1992, AFSOC special tactics and intelligence personnel supported Operation Restore Hope in Somalia. In late 1994, AFSOC units spearheaded Operation Uphold Democracy in Haiti, and in 1995 Operation Deliberate Force in the Balkans.
Operation Enduring Freedom
The terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City, and the Pentagon, Washington D.C., on 11 September 2001 pushed the United States special operations forces to the forefront of the war against terrorism. By the end of September 2001, AFSOC deployed forces to southwest Asia for Operation Enduring Freedom to help destroy the al Qaeda terrorist organization and remove the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. AFSOC airpower delivered special tactics forces to the battle ground and they in turn focused U.S. airpower and allowed Afghanistan's Northern Alliance ground forces to dispatch the Taliban and al Qaeda from Afghanistan. AFSOC personnel also deployed to the Philippines to help aid that country's efforts against terrorism.
Operation Iraqi Freedom
In March 2003, AFSOC again deployed forces to southwest Asia this time in support of what would become Operation Iraqi Freedom – the removal of Saddam Hussein and his Baathist government. The command's personnel and aircraft teamed with SOF and conventional forces to quickly bring down Saddam Hussein's government by May 2003. AFSOC forces have continued to conduct operations since then, in support of the new Iraqi government against insurgents and terrorists.
AFSOC has had nine commanders since its inception in 1990.
|List of AFSOC Commanders|
|Name||Tenure start||Tenure End|
|Maj Gen Thomas E. Eggers||22 May 1990||20 Jun 1991|
|Maj Gen Bruce L. Fister||21 Jun 1991||21 Jul 1994|
|Maj Gen James L. Hobson, Jr.||22 Jul 1994||8 Jul 1997|
|Maj Gen Charles R. Holland||9 Jul 1997||4 Aug 1999|
|Lt Gen Maxwell C. Bailey||5 Aug 1999||15 Jan 2002|
|Lt Gen Paul V. Hester||16 Jan 2002||30 Jun 2004|
|Lt Gen Michael W. Wooley||1 Jul 2004||26 Nov 2007|
|Lt Gen Donald C. Wurster||27 Nov 2007||24 Jun 2011|
|Lt Gen Eric E. Fiel||24 Jun 2011||1 Jul 2014|
|Lt Gen Bradley A. Heithold||1 Jul 2014||Incumbent|
Operation Unified Response, earthquake relief, Haiti
- SOCOM Public Affairs (2014). SOCOM Fact Book 2014 (PDF). SOCOM Public Affairs.
- SOCOM Public Affairs (2013). SOCOM Fact Book 2013 (PDF). SOCOM Public Affairs.
- Haas, Apollo's Warriors: U.S. Special Operations During the Cold War
- 23rd AF deactivates. Afsoc.af.mil. Retrieved on 2013-07-21.
- AFSOC stands up Air Warfare Center. Afsoc.af.mil. Retrieved on 2013-07-21.
- AirForce-magazine.com: The SOF Makeover (Air Force Special Operations Command's aircraft and review), by Marc V. Schanz, June 2010, Vol. 93, No. 6.
- U.S. Seeks Faster Deployment; Smaller, More Flexible Special-Operations Teams Would Tackle Emerging Threats Under New Plan 7 May 2012
- USAF Special Operations Command Official Site.
- FlightGlobal.com: Lockheed Martin C-130J selected for new special operations role, by Stephen Trimble, Washington DC, 18 Jun 2008; accessed: 20 Feb 2012
- Chinnery, Philip D. Any Time, Any Place: Fifty Years of the USAF Air Commando and Special Operations Forces, 1944-1994. Annapolis, Md: Naval Institute Press, 1994. ISBN 1557500371
- Haas, Michael E. Apollo's Warriors: U.S. Air Force Special Operations During the Cold War. 2002, University Press of the Pacific, Honolulu. ISBN 9781410200099.
- Hebert, Adam J. "The Air Commandos". Air Force Magazine, March 2005 (vol. 88, no. 3).
- Marquis, Susan L. Unconventional Warfare: Rebuilding U.S. Special Operations Forces. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 1997. ISBN 0815754760
- Pushies, Fred J. Deadly Blue Battle Stories of the U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command. New York: American Management Assoc, 2009. <http://www.books24x7.com/marc.asp?bookid=32471>. ISBN 9780814413616
- Sine, William F. Guardian Angel: Life and Death Adventures with Pararescue, the World's Most Powerful Commando Rescue Force. Havertown, Pa: Casemate, 2012. ISBN 9781612001227
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to United States Air force Special Operations Forces.|
- Air Force Special Operations Command Home Page—Official AFSOC public site
- AFSOC Factsheet, public site
- United States Air Force—Official website
- ShadowSpear Special Operations: AFSOC