HomeAboutSpecial Tactics

The Air Force's Ground Special Operations Force

What is Air Force Special Tactics?

The easiest way to think about it is “Special Tactics” is to Air Force, as “SEALs” is to Navy, and "Special Forces” and “Rangers” are to Army. More specifically, in the 1970s, a small number of highly skilled men were brought together to provide the U.S. military a unique special tactics capability. That team was coined “Brand X.” Over the years, additional capabilities were added to this group and have grown into what we call Air Force Special Tactics.

Today, our mission is to provide Special Tactics Airmen for rapid global employment to enable airpower success. We’re U.S. Special Operations Command’s tactical air and ground integration force and the Air Force’s special operations ground force leading global access, precision strike, personnel recovery operations and battlefield surgery.

We currently reside in 29 total operating locations, 16 recruiting locations, and have 13 geographically separated units. There are nearly 1,000 ST operators within Air Force Special Operations Command and approximately 2,500 members make up the Special Tactics community with almost 1,500 assigned to the 24th Special Operations Wing.

What kind of careers or job specialties are in Special Tactics?

Special Tactics Officer (STO) - Special Tactics Airmen are elite special operators uniquely skilled in commanding and controlling operations integrating air and ground capabilities, often necessary in special operations, to achieve battlefield objectives. Special Tactics Officers (STOs) lead Special Tactics Teams (STTs) in preparation for worldwide contingency operations both in hostile and austere environments, ranging from counterterrorism missions to global humanitarian assistance operations.

  • While working alongside joint and coalition SOF partners, STOs coordinate employment of STTs at all levels of command to provide: global access for force projection; precision strike, i.e. close air support, combined arms, and strategic attack; personnel recovery/combat search and rescue, and battlefield trauma surgery.
  • As leaders responsible for delivering highly specialized capabilities outside the realm of conventional warfare, they are experts in planning and executing special reconnaissance, strike, and recovery missions.
  • STOs are trained in military static-line and free fall employment techniques, combat dive, demolition, and joint terminal attack control, they competently lead this effective, lethal fighting force by creative problem solving, will power, and dedication to their team members.

Combat Control (CCT) – Along with pararescuemen, combat controllers (CCTs) are the Air Force’s most highly trained Airmen. As Federal Aviation Administration certified air traffic controllers, CCTs are capable of infiltrating via sea, air or land and controlling assets in the skies above.

  • Airfield assessment and control is a capability put to use by our combat controllers (CCTs) for combat missions or humanitarian relief. Our units can assess, open, and control major airfields to clandestine dirt strips in either permissive or hostile locations. This ability provides strategic access for our nation’s military.

Pararescue (PJ) – Pararescuemen (PJs) are expert combat medical professionals capable of providing life-saving measures in hostile areas.

  • Personnel recovery is the primary mission for our pararescuemen (PJs) and can be tailored to the mission. This combat rescue capability protects high-risk special operations missions and is Special Operations Command’s personnel recovery action-arm.

Special Reconnaissance (SR) – Special Reconnaissance Airmen are among the most highly trained personnel in the U.S. military, capable of working side-by-side with America’s most elite special operators on specific missions.

  • They receive training in surveillance and reconnaissance, multi-domain electronic warfare (EW), long-range precision engagement and target interdiction, small unmanned aircraft systems, preparation of the environment, personnel recovery, and advanced special tactics skills.

Tactical Air Control Party (TACP) – As network specialists, TACPs conduct close air support and control communication networks in hostile areas.

  • Joint tactical attack control is a qualification and special skill that many Special Tactics Airmen possess. It maximizes the lethal and non-lethal effects of airpower and minimizes risk to non-combatants such as medical and religious teams and civilians. This training and certification is one of the main skills of our CCTs and tactical air control party members (TACPs).

Special Operations Surgical Teams (SOST) – consists of active-duty Air Force medical professionals including trauma surgeons, emergency physicians, nurse anesthetists, surgical scrub techs, critical-care nurses, and respiratory techs. They are charged with providing far-forward medical care during combat operations wherever the U.S. military is engaged. When not on active deployment, the team trains in surgery, in trauma centers and in intensive-care units.

Are JTACs in Air Force Special Tactics?

Actually, that term is frequently misused to describe an individual. The term JTAC, or joint terminal attack control, is a qualification or certification that any career field can obtain by attending the school. Members in the combat control and tactical air control party career fields predominantly hold the JTAC qualification.

What has Air Force Special Tactics done in recent conflicts?

Since Sept. 11, 2001, Air Force Special Tactics has been involved in almost every major operation and has seen a significant amount of combat. In fact, ST averages a member being killed or wounded-in-action every 1.15 months dating back to 2001. Our community has received one Medal of Honor, nine Air Force Crosses, 46 Silver Stars, nearly 650 Bronze Stars, hundreds of Bronze Star medals (over 250 with valor), and hundreds of Purple Hearts. Special Tactics is the most highly decorated community in the Air Force since the end of the Vietnam War.