HomeSpecial 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.


The 24th Special Operations Wing is one of four Air Force active duty special operations wings assigned to Air Force Special Operations Command. The 24th SOW is based at Hurlburt Field, Fla., and is the only Special Tactics wing in the Air Force.

The primary mission of the 24th SOW is to provide Special Tactics forces for rapid global employment to enable airpower success.  Special Tactics Airmen are U.S. Special Operations Command’s tactical air-ground integration force and the Air Force’s special operations ground force to enable Global Access, Precision Strike, Personnel Recovery and Battlefield Surgery operations.

Core capabilities encompass: airfield reconnaissance, assessment, and control; personnel recovery; joint terminal attack control; environmental and urban reconnaissance; tactical damage control surgery.

The Special Tactics community is comprised of Special Tactics Officers, Combat Controllers, Combat Rescue Officers, Pararescuemen, Special Reconnaissance Airmen, Tactical Air Control Party Officers and Airmen, Special Operations Surgical Teams, as well as a number of combat mission support personnel, which comprise approximately 60 Air Force specialties.

These unique skills provide a full-spectrum, air-focused special operations capability to the combatant commander in order to ensure airpower success.  With their unique skill sets, Special Tactics operators are often the first special operations elements deployed into crisis situations. Special Tactics Airmen often embed with Navy SEALs, Army Green Berets and Rangers to provide everything from combat air support to medical aid and personnel recovery, depending on their specialty.


The wing has two operational groups and a training squadron. Altogether, the wing has elements in 16 locations, with Airmen currently deployed to more than 73 locations.

The 123rd Special Tactics Squadron based at Standiford Field, Kentucky, and the 125th STS based at Portland International Airport, Oregon, are Air National Guard units, which augment the 24th SOW in support of national security objectives, combat operations, humanitarian efforts and training.

The 320th Special Tactics Squadron, 353rd Special Operations Group based at Kadena Air Base, Japan and the 321st STS, 352nd Special Operations Wing based at RAF Mildenhall, England are two other Special Tactics units, which the wing supports with training, personnel functions and resources.


720th Special Tactics Group, Hurlburt Field, Fla.:

720th Special Tactics Group, Detachment 1, Hurlburt Field, Fla.
17th Special Tactics Squadron, Ft. Benning, Ga.
21st Special Tactics Squadron, Pope Field, N.C.
22nd Special Tactics Squadron, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.
23rd Special Tactics Squadron, Hurlburt Field, Fla.
26th Special Tactics Squadron, Cannon Air Force Base, N.M.
720th Operations Support Squadron, Hurlburt Field, Fla.

724th Special Tactics Group, Pope Field, N.C.

Special Tactics Training Squadron, Hurlburt Field, Fla.:

The Special Tactics Training Squadron recruits, assesses, selects, trains and develops five-level combat controllers, special reconnaissance Airmen, pararescuemen, special operations qualified tactical air control party members for the 24th SOW, while also providing initial joint terminal attack control training to Army, Marine Corps and Air Force special operations forces.

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 terminal 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?

Special Tactics Airmen are the most decorated group of Airmen for heroism and gallantry since the Vietnam War.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, 20 Special Tactics Airmen have fallen in battle. In addition, there have been 11 Air Force Crosses, 50 Silver Stars and hundreds of Bronze Stars with Valor awarded to Special Tactics Airmen.

Global Access

Special Tactics Global Access Teams are tasked with assessing and opening anything from a major international airport to clandestine dirt strips in either permissive or hostile locations, providing strategic access for follow-on forces.

GA Teams ensure U.S. and allies nations can access man-made and natural contested, degraded and operationally-challenged environments, enabling options for assault, maneuver and power projection. 

Precision Strike

Special Tactics Airmen are highly-trained in kinetic and non-kinetic precision strike—from coordinating with aircraft to direct accurate munitions to humanitarian aid drops from the ground.

Special Tactics Airmen are a ground force that maximize the impacts of air power by controlling and directing precise strikes to destroy enemy terrain, positions and resources.

Personnel Recovery

Special Tactics teams have the ability to conduct personnel recovery missions, from rapid mission planning to technical rescue, treatment and exfiltration. With in-depth medical and rescue expertise, along with their deployment capabilities, ST Airmen are able to perform rescue missions in the world's most remote areas.

Battlefield Surgery

Special Operations Surgical Teams’ proximity to the fight and ability to conduct high-level surgical operations in austere environments saves lives, builds relationships with the local populace and provide psychological stability for joint and allied forces combatting the enemy.