The EC-130J Commando Solo, a specially-modified four-engine Hercules transport, conducts airborne Information Operations via digital and analog radio and television broadcasts. These missions are often flown at night to reduce probability of detection in politically sensitive or hostile territories.
The EC-130J are flown by the 193rd Special Operations Wing, a Pennsylvania Air National Guard unit, gained by Air Force Special Operations Command.
Many modifications were made to the basic C-130J to create the EC-130, including enhanced navigation systems, self-protection equipment and air refueling. The majority of the engineering investment went into the integration of the special mission equipment capable of up to 14 simultaneous broadcasts with the same or independent messages on each channel. Keeping pace with information-technology systems, message playback is accomplished using media stored digitally, e.g. hard drives, but the aircraft is still capable of accepting legacy media formats (CD/DVD etc.). In addition to pre-recorded messages, the EC-130J has the capability to conduct live broadcasts. In the last two deployments, the live broadcast option has gained considerable popularity. In its current configuration, the EC-130J is capable of a broad-range of tactics including; Information Operations (Influence) and Joint Electromagnetic Spectrum Operations, i.e. electronic attack.
The genesis for this airborne IO platform can be traced back to 1968 and the 193rd Tactical Electronics Warfare Group receiving its first EC-121 Coronet Solo. The 193rd TEWG first tested this new capability while deployed to Korat, Thailand in 1970, where the wing conducted psychological operations broadcasts in support of U.S. forces in Vietnam.
In the late 1970’s, the EC-121s were replaced by the venerable EC-130E and renamed Volant Solo. Soon after, the 193rd TEWG received its first tasking for the Volant Solo and participated in the rescue of American citizens during Operation Urgent Fury in 1983. The aircraft acted as an airborne radio station and kept the citizens of Grenada informed about U.S. military action. Several years later in 1989, Volant Solo was instrumental in the success of coordinated psychological operations in Operation Just Cause. During this mission, it broadcasted throughout the initial phases of the operation, helping to end the Noriega regime.
In 1990, now the 193rd Special Operations Group joined the newly formed Air Force Special Operations Command, and the wing's aircraft were redesignated Commando Solo, with no change in mission. In 1990-91, Commando Solo deployed to Saudi Arabia and Turkey in support of operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Its missions included broadcasting the "Voice of the Gulf" and other highly successful programs intended to convince Iraqi soldiers to surrender.
In 1994, Commando Solo was used to broadcast radio and TV messages to the citizens and leaders of Haiti during Operation Uphold Democracy. President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was featured in these broadcasts, which contributed to the orderly transition from military rule to democracy.
Continuing its tradition, in 1997 the Commando Solo supported the U.N. Operation Joint Guard with radio and TV broadcasts over Bosnia-Herzegovina in support of stabilization forces operations. In 1998, the unit and its aircraft participated in Operation Desert Thunder, a deployment to Southwest Asia to convince Iraq to comply with U.N. Security Council resolutions. The Commando Solo was again sent into action in 1999 in support of Operation Allied Force. The aircraft was tasked to broadcast radio and television into Kosovo to prevent ethnic cleansing and assist in the expulsion of the Serbs from the region.
After the tragic attacks on 9/11, the spirit and patriotism of 193rd Special Operations Wing Airmen was demonstrated when two EC-130E aircraft departed for Southwest Asia on Sept. 23, 2001. These aircraft broadcasted radio messages to the local Afghan population and Taliban soldiers at the commencement of Operation Enduring Freedom.
In November 2002, two Commando Solo aircraft deployed to conduct Operational Preparation of the Environment broadcast missions over the Persian Gulf under the authorities of Operation Southern Watch. These daily missions continued up to and months after coalition forces invaded Iraq in March of 2003 which ushered in an additional phase of the Global War on Terrorism; Operation Iraqi Freedom. By April 2003, a total of four 193rd aircraft were deployed to three different operating locations. On one day, all four aircraft were airborne simultaneously engaging in combat operations; unprecedented in the unit’s history.
In November 2003, the first flight of the EC-130J Commando Solo III signaled a major milestone for the unit’s conversion from six Vietnam era EC-130Es to six EC-130Js.
In 2006 and In the midst of a demanding deployment schedule, the conversion program was halted at three of six EC-130J Commando Solos.
Since operations began in U.S. Central Command, the 193rd Special Operations Wing’s persistent force presentation has earned them the moniker “the most deployed unit in the Air National Guard.” These deployments included; Operation Enduring Freedom (2001, 2002, 2009, 2013, and 2014), Operation Iraqi Freedom (2002, 2003, 2005, 2007, and 2009), Operations Odyssey Dawn / Unified Protector in Libya (2011), Operation Inherent Resolve (2015-2017, 2019-2020), Operation Resolute Support/Freedom’s Sentinel (2019-2020), as well as U.S. Southern Command taskings, Operation Secure Tomorrow (2004) and Operation Unified Response (2010) in Haiti.
In 2018, the EC-130J Commando Solo program began upgrades to Multi-Mission Payload-Heavy, a U.S. Special Operations Command Program of Record, which adds software defined radio system architecture able to modify broadcast formats (AM, FM, TV, Cellular, etc.); advances information related capabilities for digital TV and electronic attack, and is an innovation crossroad for future spiral cyber upgrades.
Primary function: Airborne Information Operations broadcasts
Secondary function: Electronic Warfare
Contractor: Lockheed Aircraft Co.
Power plant: AE2100D3 six-blade turboprops
Thrust: 4,637 shaft horsepower, each engine
Wingspan: 133 feet (40.3 meters)
Length: 98 feet (29.7 meters)
Height: 39 feet (11.8 meters)
Cruise speed: 335 mph
Ceiling: 28,000 feet (8,534 meters)
Maximum takeoff weight: 164,000 pounds (74,390 kilograms)
Range: 2,300 nautical miles
Crew: pilot, copilot, combat systems officer, mission crew supervisor, three electronic communications systems operators and two loadmasters
Initial operating capability: 2004
Unit cost: $110 million
Inventory: active force, 0; Reserve, 0; ANG, 3
(Current as of March 2021)