Special Operations: Unique Aircraft Wearing Out


September30, 2008:  U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) is getting some new, or at least rebuilt, aircraft. The current AFSOC fleet of 260 aircraft and helicopters is getting old, and the intense operations since September 11, 2001 has aged the fleet more quickly than anticipated. CV-22 tilt-rotor aircraft are entering service next year, with fifty of them to replace MH-53 helicopters. Fourteen C-130s are being transferred from transportation units for conversion to ten MC-130 all-weather transports, and four AC-130U gunships. Both of these aircraft are equipped to operate at night and in any weather, as well as at very low altitudes. AFSOC has 37 MC-130s that are wearing out, so more new, or rebuilt, C-130s will be arriving in the next three years. AFSOC is also experimenting with a two engine gunship (based on the C-27J), the AC-27J.

The most pressing need for replacement is the 25 year old HH-60 search and rescue helicopters. AFSOC inherited a hundred of these in 2003, along with the 7,000 personnel of the CSAR (combat search and rescue). These are specially trained air force personnel who fly in and rescue downed aircrew (from any of the services) and passengers. They are especially good at doing this in enemy territory. During the 2003 invasion of Iraq, CSAR made twenty rescues, bringing 73 people out. CSAR helicopters and crews are flown to any area where American aircraft will be operating. There is currently a battle going on inside the air force over what will replace the current HH-60s (UH-60s equipped for all weather operations in hostile territory). Some factions want a larger and more expensive aircraft (like the V-22), but Congress will not provide enough money for that.

AFSOC aircraft support all SOCOM (Special Operations Command) operations, including army, navy and marine operators. The air force has its own "air commandos" as well (combat weathermen, pararescue, air controllers), and a total personnel strength of 20,000.



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