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AFSOC Highlights Organizational and Equipment Changes

In his plenary address before the recent TechNet Land Forces – South conference in Tampa, Fla., Maj. Gen. (Select) Michael Kingsley, USAF, vice commander, Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) highlighted a number of issues, ranging from recent organizational changes to the operational contributions of that organization’s recently-fielded non-standard aircraft platforms.

In a presentation titled “AFSOC Challenges in a Changing Environment,” Kingsley outlined an organization of approximately 16,000 individuals, a total that includes the active component, Air National Guard elements, Air Force Reserve elements and civilian employees.

24th SOW Activation

U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Eric Fiel, commander of Air Force Special Operations Command, passes the first guidon from Col. Robert Armfield, commander of the 24th Special Operations Wing, during the unit’s activation at Hurlburt Field, Fla., June 12, 2012.  U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Christopher Williams

“That’s less than two percent of the United States Air Force,” he explained, adding that AFSOC is further organized into “three CONUS wings – including the newest wing: the 24th Special Operations Wing, which is our special tactics wing – and two overseas groups: [RAF] Mildenhall, with the 352nd Special Operations Group; and Kadena Air Base in Japan, with the 353rd.”

The newly-established 24th Special Operations Wing, which includes 1,300-1,400 individuals, stood up on June 12, 2012, at Hurlburt Field, Fla., to provide functional leadership for the AFSOC special tactics elements that frequently deploy with other USSOCOM elements: Combat Controllers; Pararescue; Combat Weather; and Tactical Control Party personnel.

As the Air Force component supporting USSOCOM and their task missions, Kingsley identified eight AFSOC core mission areas:

  • Specialized Air Mobility;
  • Precision Strike;
  • Battlefield Air Operations;
  • Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance;
  • Agile Combat Support;
  • Command and Control;
  • Aviation Foreign Internal Defense, and;
  • Information Operations/Military Information Support Operations.

“These are our piece in support of [US]SOCOM missions,” Kingsley said. “They are also in rank order, with the most important at the top. Part of the reason for the rank order is to ensure that the ‘must dos’ are identified for us. Obviously in this fiscal environment we have to do that. And if there is ever any question we will concentrate on top priorities first.”

“Most of these mission areas are pretty straightforward,” he added. “And the one that was added a few years ago is about [Agile] Combat Support. Because SOF has global commitments and AFSOC is deployed throughout the globe we have a need for our own combat support. In the past we depended on conventional Air Force base and operations support. Of course we still do to a large extent. But now AFSOC has two bases – Cannon and Hurlburt – where we own the base support instead of being just a tenant unit. As operational assets deploy we can tap into that support side – tactical comm[unications] as an example – to go with the operations unit.”

In parallel with the expanding mission set, Kingsley highlighted some recent additions to the organization’s aircraft fleet.

“AFSOC operates a composite force of multiple mission-designed series aircraft, the majority of which are C-130s,” he noted, adding that most of the “legacy” C-130 aircraft date back to the Vietnam era.

“We are beginning to see the first of the new ‘J’ models [C-130],” he continued. “I think Cannon [AFB] has four right now and they are building up – coming at about one a month. They will eventually replace all of the older C-130 models. Right now we’re looking at 94 C-130Js coming on line. We expect significant savings in having less variants and having a less costly fleet to operate.”

U-28 takeoff

An AFSOC U-28 takes off from a dirt field. The U-28 is derived from the commercial Pilatus PC-12 aircraft, and is part of the AFSOC non-standard aviation fleet. U.S. Air Force photo

Turning to what he termed “the new additions to the AFSOC fleet,” Kingsley said, “We have added several smaller aircraft to be able to transport small teams within a theater without using the larger C-130s. It allows us to reach smaller, more remote areas, and place teams where they are needed. We call them NSAVs – which stands for Non Standard Aircraft Vehicle.”

AFSOC’s new NSAV fleet elements include the U-28A/PC-12, the C-145A, and the C-146A.

The new fleet also brings its own challenges.

Highlighting the command and control challenges of small SOF elements in these remote locations, Kingsley observed, “It’s still a requirement, but without robust tasking, intel and support structure. We have been adding the new small inter-theater fleet – what I call the NSAVs – as well as ‘robusting’ our remotely piloted aircraft in giving special ops forces more capability in response to theater commander needs. The challenge is how to provide adequate command and control for these small units. Many governments do not want a large foreign presence but are willing to partner for small occasional SOF visits. Creating a full C2 capability in a greatly reduced signature as far as people and equipment is a great challenge for us.”

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Scott Gourley is a former U.S. Army officer and the author of more than 1,500...