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(s)||"Any Time, Any Place"|
|Lieutenant General Marshall B. Webb|
Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC), headquartered at Hurlburt Field, Florida, is the special operations component of the United States Air Force. An Air Force major command (MAJCOM), AFSOC is also the U.S. Air Force component command to United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), a unified combatant command located at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida. AFSOC provides all Air Force Special Operations Forces (SOF) for worldwide deployment and assignment to regional unified combatant commands.
Before 1983, Air Force special operations forces were primarily assigned to the Tactical Air Command (TAC) and were generally deployed under the control of U.S. Air Forces in Europe (USAFE) or, as had been the case during the Vietnam War, Pacific Air Forces (PACAF). Just as it had relinquished control of the C-130 theater airlift fleet to Military Airlift Command (MAC) in 1975, TAC relinquished control of Air Force SOF to MAC in December 1982.
AFSOC was initially established on 10 February 1983 as Twenty-Third Air Force (23 AF), a subordinate numbered air force of MAC, with 23 AF headquarters initially established at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois. On 1 August 1987, 23 AF headquarters moved to Hurlburt Field, Florida.
Predecessor USAAF and USAF special operations units
World War II
- 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
- 582nd Air Supply and Communications Wing
- 580th Air Supply and Communications Wing
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
- Jungle Jim / 4400th Combat Crew Training Squadron
- Farm Gate
- Operation Waterpump
- Raven Forward Air Controllers
- Project 404
- Palace Dog
- 56th Air Commando Wing
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 Center (redesignated 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
- Air Rescue Service, 1 August 1989 - 1993
- 1st Special Operations Wing (later, 16th Special Operations Wing; later, 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
- AFSOC Operations Center, Hurlburt Field, Florida
- 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*, MC-130P Combat Shadow
- 9 SOS is a Geographically Separated Unit (GSU) at Eglin AFB, Florida
- 11th Intelligence Squadron
- Det 1, 11th Intelligence Squadron, is a GSU at 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 is a GSU at Edwards AFB, California
- 19th Special Operations Squadron, AC-130U, MC-130H
- 371st Special Operations Combat Training Squadron
- 551st Special Operations Squadron, AC-130H, AC-130W, MC-130J
- 551 SOS is a GSU at Cannon AFB, New Mexico
- United States Air Force Special Operations School, Hurlburt Field, Florida
Air National Guard (ANG) 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
- 209th Special Operations Civil Engineer Squadron, Mississippi Air National Guard, Gulfport Combat Readiness Training Center, Mississippi
- 280th Special Operations Communications Squadron, Alabama Air National Guard, Dothan Regional Airport ANGS, Alabama
- 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 (AFRC) units
Personnel and resources
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 aerial refueling of SOF operational elements.
In addition to the pilots, combat systems officers, and enlisted aircrew who fly AFSOC's aircraft, there is a highly experienced support force of maintenance officers and enlisted aircraft maintenance personnel who maintain these complex aircraft and their support systems, a cadre of premier intelligence officers and enlisted intelligence specialists well versed in special operations, as well as logisticians, security forces and numerous other support officers and personnel.
Another aspect of AFSOC is Special Tactics, the U.S. Air Force's special operations ground force. Similar in ability and employment to Marine Special Operations Command (MARSOC), U.S. Army Special Forces and U.S. 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.
The command's Special Tactics Squadrons are led by Special Tactics Officers (STOs). Special Tactics Squadrons combine Combat Controllers, Tactical Air Control Party (TACP), Special Operations Weather Technicians, Pararescuemen (PJs) and Combat Rescue Officers (CROs) 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.
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 and 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, about eight 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 two to four applicants are selected to begin the year-plus Special Tactics training pipeline.
- AC-130H Spectre / AC-130U Spooky II / AC-130W Stinger II
- CV-22B Osprey
- C-32 (Boeing 757)
- EC-130J Commando Solo III
- 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, through its Air Force Special Operations Air Warfare Center, possess and operates a small number of the following aircraft for its special training mission and Aviation Foreign Internal Defense (FID) missions:
New AC-130J and MC-130J aircraft based on the Lockheed Martin KC-130J Super Hercules tanker variant are being acquired and sent to certain AFSOC units. MC-130J aircraft have already entered service while the AC-130J continues developmental testing in preparation for an Initial Operational Capability (IOC) with AFSOC projected for FY 2017
Twenty-Third Air Force (23 AF)
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 helped rescue 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) also played a psy-war role. Lieutenant Colonel (later Major General) James L. Hobson, Jr., an MC-130 pilot and commander of the 8th Special Operations Squadron, was later awarded 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 its headquarters from Scott AFB to Hurlburt Field, Florida.
In August 1989, Gen Duane H. Cassidy, USAF, CINCMAC, divested 23 AF of its non-special operations units, e.g., search and rescue, weather reconnaissance, etc. 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 AC-130H and Air Force Reserve AC-130A 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.
Spectre gunship crews of the 1 SOW earned the Mackay Trophy and Tunner Award for their efforts, with an Air Force Reserve AC-130A Spectre crew from the 919th Special Operations Group (919 SOG) earning the President's Award. An active duty 1st SOW MC-130 Combat Talon crew ferried the captured Panamanian President, Manuel Noriega, to prison in the United States. Likewise, the efforts of the 1 SOW maintenance people earned them the Daedalian Award.
On 22 May 1990, General Larry D. Welch, USAF, the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, 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 (1720 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 Special Operations Wing, the 352nd Special Operations Group, the 353rd Special Operations Group, the 720th Special Tactics Group (720 STG), the USAF Special Operations School and the 18th Flight Test Squadron (18 FLTS). During the early 1990s a major reorganization occurred within AFSOC. The 1720 STG became the 720 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 (834 ABW) into the 1 SOW, which assumed host unit responsibilities. A year later the 1 SOW became the 16 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 (18 FLTS).
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.
MC-130E/H Combat Talons dropped the BLU-82, the largest conventional bombs of the war and, along with MC-130P Combat Shadows, dropped the most psychological warfare leaflets, while AC-130A and AC-130H Spectre gunships provided valuable fire support and armed reconnaissance. However, the AC-130 community also suffered the single greatest combat loss of coalition air forces with the shoot down of an AC-130H, call sign Spirit 03, by an Iraqi SA-7 Grail surface-to-air missile. All fourteen crew members aboard Spirit 03 were killed.
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 continued to conduct operations in support of the new Iraqi government against insurgents and terrorists.
AFSOC has had eleven 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||19 Jul 2016|
|Lt Gen Marshall B. Webb||19 Jul 2016||Incumbent|
|1975||Mayaguez incident, Cambodia|
|1975||Operation Eagle Pull, Cambodia|
|1975||Operation Frequent Wind, Vietnam|
|1976||Operation Fluid Drive, Lebanon|
|1980||Operation Eagle Claw, Iran|
|1981||Kidnapping of U.S. Army Brigadier General James Dozier, Italy|
|1981||Gulf of Sidra incident, Libya|
|1983||Operation Urgent Fury, Grenada|
|1983||Operation Big Pine, Honduras|
|1983–1985||Operation Bat, Bahamas, Turks and Caicos|
|1983–1988||Operation Bield Kirk, Operation Blue Flame, Operation Blinking Light, El Salvador|
|1984||Salvadorean President José Napoleón Duarte's daughter kidnapping, El Salvador|
|1985||TWA Flight 847 plane hijacking, Algeria/Lebanon|
|1985||Achille Lauro hijacking, Mediterranean Sea|
|1986||Operation El Dorado Canyon, Libya|
|1986||Pan Am Flight 73 plane hijacking, Pakistan|
|1987–1988||Operation Earnest Will, Operation Prime Chance, Persian Gulf|
|1988||Operation Golden Pheasant, Honduras|
|1989||Operation Safe Passage, Afghanistan|
|1989||Operation Poplar Tree, El Salvador|
|1989||1989 Philippine coup attempt, Philippines|
|1989||Operation Just Cause, Panama|
|1990||Operation Promote Liberty, Panama|
|1990||Civilian evacuation, Liberia|
|1990–1991||Operation Desert Shield, Operation Desert Storm, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq|
|1991||Operation Eastern Exit, Somalia|
|1991–2003||Operation Provide Comfort I–III, Operation Northern Watch, Turkey, Iraq|
|1991||Operation Sea Angel, 1991 Bangladesh cyclone relief, Bangladesh|
|1991||Operation Fiery Vigil, Philippines|
|1991||Operation Desert Calm, Saudi Arabia|
|1991–2003||Operation Southern Watch, Kuwait|
|1992||Operation Silver Anvil, Sierra Leone|
|1992–1994||Operation Provide Promise I–II, Italy, Yugoslavia|
|1992–1993||Operation Restore Hope, Somalia|
|1993–1995||Operation Continue Hope I–III, Somalia|
|1993||Operation Deny Flight, Yugoslavia|
|1993||Operation Silver Hope, Ukraine|
|1994||Operation Restore Democracy, Operation Uphold Democracy, Haiti|
|1994||Operation Support Hope, Rwanda|
|1995||Operation United Shield, Somalia|
|1995–1996||Operation Deliberate Force, Operation Joint Endeavor, Operation Joint Guard, Italy, Yugoslavia, Bosnia|
|1996||Search and Rescue support for U.S. Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown CT-43 crash, Croatia|
|1996||Operation Assured Response, evacuation, Liberia|
|1996||Operation Guardian Retrieval, Uganda|
|1996||Operation Pacific Bridge, Palau|
|1996||Operation Guardian Assistance, Rwanda|
|1997||Operation Silver Wake, evacuation, Albania|
|1997||Operation Guardian Angel, Yugoslavia|
|1997||Operation Firm Response, evacuation, Republic of Congo|
|1997||Operation High Flight, Namibia|
|1998||Operation Desert Thunder, Persian Gulf|
|1998||Operation Desert Fox, Iraq|
|1999||Operation Allied Force, Serbia, Kosovo|
|2000||Operation Atlas Response, flood relief, Mozambique|
|2000||Operation Fiery Relief, volcano relief, Philippines|
|2001||Operation Valiant Return, China|
|2001–present||Operation Enduring Freedom, Global War on Terror|
|2002||Operation Autumn Return, evacuation, Côte d'Ivoire|
|2003||Operation Shining Express, evacuation, Liberia|
|2003–2011||Operation Iraqi Freedom, Iraq|
|2003–2008||Operation Willing Spirit, Columbia|
|2004||Operation Atlas Shield, Greece|
|2004||Operation Secure Tomorrow, Haiti|
|2005–2005||Operation Unified Assistance, Indian Ocean, Southeast Asia|
|2005||Task Force Katrina, hurricane relief, United States|
|2008||Operation Aster Silver, evacuation, Chad|
|2008||Operation Assured Delivery, Georgia|
|2008||Operation Olympic Titan, Pacific Ocean|
|2010||Operation Unified Response, earthquake relief, Haiti|
|2011||Operation Tomodachi, earthquake and tsunami relief, Japan|
|2011||Operation Odyssey Dawn, Libya|
|2013||Operation Damayan, typhoon relief, Philippines|
AFSOC's first CV-22B Osprey at sunset, Hurlburt Field, Florida
Combat Controllers practice seizing an airfield
AFSOC Special Operations Weathermen
MC-130P Combat Shadow aircraft punching flares
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Air Force Special Operations Command.|
- 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