Training foreign forces in Air Force special ops

  • Published
  • By Capt. Tom Montgomery
  • Air Force Special Operations Command Public Affairs
The 6th Special Operations Squadron here is the only unit in the U.S. military with a wartime mission to assess, train, advise and assist foreign aviation forces. The squadron’s Airmen are constantly operating in the most dangerous corners of the world where terrorists, warlords and criminals thrive.

In these environments, the air commandos in the 6th SOS train foreign allies to use and sustain air power.

“Our ability to train and advise foreign aviation forces has more long-term, strategic relevance in the war on terrorism and insurgency than direct tactical actions by United States forces,” said Jerry Klingaman, squadron director of strategy and plans. “We offer a strategy of military enablement, and that’s crucial to our current national security posture.”

The 6th SOS prepares for this task with advanced training. Upon acceptance to the squadron, it takes an Airman nearly a year of training to become mission qualified.

The unit teaches foreign forces to maintain, fly and fight in myriad aircraft. Some of the aircraft they are proficient in are Russian and the wording on the gauges use Cyrillic characters.

Equally important, the squadron’s Airmen have annual language training. Training also includes advanced weapons skills and instruction covering regional and political issues.

The post-Cold War world has made it imperative for the United States to develop overseas partnerships and realign its forces to meet emerging threats. The U.S. will also need to rely more on the ability of allies to defend themselves and assist in fighting terrorists.

U.S. Special Operations Command has been tasked as the lead command for planning the war on terrorism. As such, Air Force Special Operations Command is the air component for this challenge and is developing more capabilities to accomplish these missions. There is recent guidance to significantly increase the size of the 6th SOS which currently has more than 30 Air Force job specialties represented in a unit comprising about 100 Airmen.

The squadron’s Airmen recently returned from a mission in North Africa where they taught improved and specialized tactics and techniques. The training these air forces receive is critical to keep their ground forces resupplied and combat-ready.

As terrorist groups, bandits, and rebels have exploited the region as a safe haven, North Africa presents a serious challenge for the Airmen. The Sahara and Pan Sahel regions span across an area as large as the continental U.S. where human existence is barely possible with 130-degree temperatures and bone-dry deserts. It is the perfect place for a terrorist to hide, and the hardest place for less-developed governments to find and engage the enemy.

“It’s not easy to keep the ground troops resupplied via convoy vehicles in the region because if the bandits or land mines don’t get you, the heat will. So, we teach them to use air power,” said a mission commander. Special operations Airmen’s names are not released for security reasons.

The lieutenant colonel, who speaks French, led a team that taught advanced fixed and rotary wing tactics in a C-130 Hercules and an Mi-17. In North Africa, the people speak French, Arabic and tribal languages.

“When we got the pilots ready and they began to fly supplies into austere landing strips, we were heroes to their army guys,” the colonel said. “And, when it came time to leave the country, the government wanted us to stay.”

The squadron is aligned to accomplish its mission worldwide, and Airmen are assigned to a flight where their regional and language abilities will be useful.

The Southern Command flight recently conducted training in Colombia that resulted in the Colombian military being able to conduct joint insertion and extraction missions with night-vision goggles.

“For Colombia, our efforts resulted in the first ever use of NVG capability in a joint combat search and rescue operation,” said a mission commander there. The major is a native Spanish speaker and fixed-wing pilot.

“Narcotics and terrorism go hand in hand,” Mr. Klingaman said. “And Colombia remains a hotbed for this activity. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia have been at war with the Colombian government for decades, funding their insurgency through extortion, kidnapping and narcotics sales.”

The squadron also enhanced the Colombian’s ability to use their AC-47 gunship in close-air support and other missions.

“We don’t teach them how to fly the aircraft. We teach them how to use the aircraft’s full capabilities and how to use it as a tactical weapon system,” Mr. Klingaman said.

The squadron also operates in another hotbed for terrorism. Southeast Asia has emerged as a haven for radical Islamic terrorist groups like al Qaeda. The Philippine government has been fighting against numerous such groups.

Special operations Airmen recently trained Philippine airmen as quick-reaction combat lifesavers. The team of instructors from the 6th SOS included pilots, maintainers, security forces, pararescuemen and medics trained as international health specialists.

“Before our mobile training team arrived, the Philippine air force had the ability to take off and land during the day. After our training, they were able to conduct multiple aircraft, multiple formation infiltration and exfiltration missions at night on NVGs with gunnery and with combat lifesavers rappelling and fast-roping out to save lives,” said a 6th SOS major who was a mission commander.

It was not easy to go from basic flying to where they are today. To train the lifesavers to do intravenous procedures in a helicopter encountering turbulence, a 6th SOS technical sergeant took the Philippine combat lifesavers on a bouncing deuce-and-a-half truck to practice on each other.

“Immediately after our first iterations of training, the Philippine air force was called in to do a combat exfil and they saved the lives of three Philippine … soldiers on an NVG helo medevac,” said the major.

These internationally savvy warrior-teachers continue to operate worldwide, allowing friendly forces to bring air and space power to the fight. Their unique mission and training make them a key component to the capability to fight terrorists on foreign soil. As this mission grows, leaders have also expressed their desire to grow this squadron of air commandos.