Can you tell us the composition of the wing and units?
The wing is configured into four groups. You start with the 27th Special Operations Group. They own the air crews, the intelligence force, and all the support personnel specifically for air operations. Air crew flight equipment, air traffic control, intelligence support, the aviation resource management, the weather folks – those all belong to the ops group. Then I have the 27th Special Operations Maintenance Group. They own the aircraft and maintain the aircraft. We’ve got the best maintainers in all of DOD, and you know they got the award last year to prove it. They do a phenomenal job with an underresourced and an inexperienced force, so I’m very proud of what our maintainers do. Then our third group is our 27th Special Operations Mission Support Group. Not only do they deploy downrange to provide agile combat support capabilities, but they also kind of replicate the garrison and installation responsibilities. They’re our security forces to make sure our flight line and our installations stay safe and go downrange to support operations to make sure those outside-the-wire operations are safe. Our communications squadrons, which ensure the networks. Our logistics readiness squadron is making sure the logistics machine and the supply machine and the deployment machine is running. The contracting squadron makes sure all the money gets where it needs to and we spend a lot of money on here. The 4th Support Squadron takes care of the quality of life programs, the personnel programs that keep our airmen and their families happy. And then our civil engineering squadron – the civil engineering [CE] squadron is another absolute all-star. Two out of the last three years, they’ve been highlighted as the Air Force’s best CE squadron. And the reason they didn’t win it in the middle year, they’re not allowed to compete the year after they win.
Those are within the Mission Support Group, and then the fourth group I’ve got is the 27th Medical Group.
Within my Ops Group I’ve got numerous squadrons. I’ve got three RPA squadrons. One is an MQ-1 squadron transitioning to MQ-9s. The other is an MQ-9 [squadron]. And, the third is a launch and recovery squadron.
Then the 16th Special Operations Squadron, which is the AC-130H Spectres, we’re in the phases of retiring those last few. The 20th SOS CV-22 Ospreys, the 56th Special Operations Intel squadron, the 73rd with AC-130W Stingers, the 318th Special Operations Squadron that just transitioned from [the] PC-12 utility mission to the U-28 manned ISR mission and just finished their first combat deployment – wildly successful. The 9th SOS MC-130J squadron. And then the 524th Special Operations Squadron that’s operating C-146s. So, you see, we have quite the diverse air armada out there on the ramp. It’s usually on the ramp because it’s deployed forward.
And then I have several tenants, you know, our partner units on the base. The first is the 26th Special Tactics Squadron, which just stood up last year, and they’re in their growth phase. They do not belong to me. We take care of them like one of our own, but their commanders are at Hurlburt Field at the 24th Special Operations Wing. Then, we have the 551st Special Operations Squadron, which is a training squadron that provides training for our MQ-1 and MQ-9 crews and our AC-130W crews, and our NSAV [Non-standard Aviation] – our C-146 crews. And then finally we have the 43rd Intelligence Squadron, which belongs to the 25th Air Force; they provide intelligence support to many of our aviation missions and they fly right alongside us.
While Cannon is expanding and developing into a fine base, there’s also the range complex. Talk about it, please?
The range is absolutely the crown jewel of Cannon AFB. Just last year we were able to get the 10-year vision for the range completed, the comprehensive range plan where we can define where we’re going. We’ve spent a lot of effort on cleaning up the range, because it was more a bombing and a gunnery range before, and we want to turn it into an air and ground special operations training range. For example, we were able to put a $26 million JIEDDO-funded … small city complex in there so that when our ground teammates come here to train with the air staff that we can provide, we’re also providing things on the ground that enhance their training, including driving ranges. We have visions of sniper ranges to go along with that effort. Now, there are a lot of friction points as we go forward because we’re trying to shove a lot of training into a fairly small piece of land, but I would not have it any other way, because we own the range. We determine the priorities, and we get some phenomenal training out there. But we do have a lot of growth that we’re pushing forward because this range, with a modest amount of resourcing, can become a premier training range. Because we’re in Eastern New Mexico, there’s not a lot of eyes out there watching what we’re doing. We can put a lot of air over the range, we can support a lot of ground teammates, and we can do it fairly inexpensively.
For the fliers in your wing, it’s got to be fantastic to have all that real estate and nobody complaining about noise and other things in the middle of the night.
You’re exactly right. We get to determine what we have, we schedule it, and we get the training we need from it. But we still have a long way to go. Some major areas that we’re trying to work on the range, we’ve actually defined into four lines of operation.
The first line of operation is continuing to clean up what I would call the old administrator problems. Prime examples: The previous range had their administrative facilities right in the center of the range. The problem with that is if any bomb or weapons arc touches anywhere near that, we have to pull it away. So we’re moving the entire administrative facility to the edge of the range, which frees up a lot more free fire and impact zones. In that same area we’re also building fire houses, medical houses, team houses, so that the ground teams when they come out there have a quasi-administrative area to plan and bunk, so that they’re not having to come off the range every night.
Line of operation two is making it a premier range for our ground teammates. You know, we’ve already got the small city complex, we’ve got the ability to call for fires, but we need to move forward with those driving ranges, sniper ranges, firing ranges, so that when there’s not an air stack overhead they can still continue with training while they’re out here.
The third line of operation is we’ve gotten very good at a counterinsurgency fight where the enemy doesn’t fire back in an aggressive manner. But we have to start training ourselves harder for that denied airspace fight. So, we’re working toward how we can bring more electronic countermeasures into the range area and the Eastern New Mexico high plains so that our crews aren’t just assuming that [with] the plan that they’re going to have, the enemy is not going to have a vote.
And then finally, and this one bothers me the most, is that as we’ve brought powered munitions into our arsenal, one of the things we saw was we weren’t as good downrange as we wanted to be. But through some good training, some great leadership, and basically persistence, we’ve brought our effectiveness with our powered kinetic engagements up to a very effective level on the battlefield. But we’ve been able to do that because the battlefield has allowed us to do on-the-job training. We’re not always going to have that opportunity in the years forward, but we still have to be highly effective, and so I want to make sure that this range has the ground and air space to enable powered munitions training.