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.:
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.
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.
Pararescue (PJ) – Pararescuemen (PJs) are expert combat medical professionals capable of providing life-saving measures in hostile areas.
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.
Tactical Air Control Party (TACP) – As network specialists, TACPs conduct close air support and control communication networks in hostile areas.
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.
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.
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.