8th Special Operations Squadron [8th SOS]
The 8th Special Operations Squadron is the second longest continuously operational active duty squadron in the U.S. Air Force. Since its inception in 1917, the 8th SOS has had more than 100 squadron commanders and flown 17 different types of aircraft. This list includes DH-4s, B-26s, B-57s, A-37s, MC-130Hs and the MC-130E Combat Talon I currently flown by the 8th.
The primary mission of the 8th SOS is insertion, extraction and re-supply of un-conventional warfare forces and equipment into hostile or enemy-controlled territory using airland or airdrop procedures. Numerous secondary missions include psychological operations, aerial reconnaissance and helicopter air refueling. To accomplish these varied missions, the 8th SOS uses the Combat Talon I, a highly specialized variant of the Lockheed C-130. The history of the Talon I stretches back to 1966 when the first C-130E was modified and a small squadron established at Pope Air Force Base, N.C. Later that year four of these specially modified MC-130s were deployed to Nha Trang, Republic of Vietnam, in support of the war in Southeast Asia. During the Southeast Asia conflict, Combat Talon Is were extensively involved in covert/clandestine operations in Laos and North Vietnam. They routinely flew unarmed, single-ship missions deep into North Vietnam under the cover of darkness to carry out unconventional warfare missions in support of Military Assistance Command's Special Operations Group.
Since its initial development, major modifications have been made to the Combat Talon I to ensure its continued viability through technological superiority. Today's Combat Talon I with its state-of-the-art computer systems is capable of terrain following operations as low as 250 feet in all weather conditions. Crews from the 8th SOS can drop equipment or personnel on small, unmarked drop zones with pinpoint accuracy, day or night. Additionally, the Talon I gives the squadron a truly global reach with the ability to receive gas from Air Force tanker aircraft and transfer gas to special operations helicopters. The Talon I is equipped with an electronic warfare package to counter the threat of detection by enemy radar by deceiving or jamming many types of enemy radar. The aircraft also employs infrared jamming pods, chaff, and flares to combat the threat of enemy missiles. These updates ensure the Combat Talon I will remain a weapon of choice into the 21st Century. Combat Talon I forces have been tasked on numerous occasions to use their unique capabilities in the interest of national objectives. In 1970, Combat Talon Is led assault forces on the North Vietnamese Son Tay prisoner of war camp. During the raid they also functioned as an airborne jammer and command post, providing vectoring information for mission aircraft.
Members of the 8th SOS were deployed as part of a joint task force that landed in the Iranian desert in April 1980 in support of the American hostage rescue attempt. During that mission, five members of the squadron lost their lives. The squadron received its motto "with the guts to try" from this operation. The squadron was called on again in October 1983 to lead the way in the rescue of American students endangered on the island of Grenada. After long hours of flight, the aircrew members faced intense ground fire to airdrop Army Rangers on time, on target. They subsequently followed up with three psychological operations leaflet drops designed to encourage the Cubans to discontinue the conflict. Members of the 8th SOS were mobilized in December 1989 as part of a joint task force for Operation Just Cause in the Republic of Panama. Following the conflict, it was an 8th SOS Combat Talon I that flew General Manuel Noriega back to the United States to stand trial.
During Operation Desert Shield, the 8th SOS was deployed to Saudi Arabia as a deterrent against the Iraqi threat to its southern neighbor. In January 1991, when Iraq failed to comply with United Nations directives to withdraw from Kuwait, the skills of the 8th SOS were called on once again as Desert Shield escalated into Desert Storm. The 8th SOS played a pivotal role in the success of coalition forces as they liberated Kuwait by dropping eleven 15,000 pound BLU-82 bombs and 23 million leaflets and conducting numerous aerial refuelings of special operations helicopters. The U. S. Air Force relies on the proven abilities of the 8th SOS as evidenced by its recent deployments in support of Operations Provide Promise and Deny Flight in Bosnia, Operation Assured Response in Liberia and Operation Southern Watch in Saudi Arabia. Even Hollywood relied on the crews of the 8th in the 1997 hit movie "Air Force One".
In early spring 2000, the 8th SOS transfered to Duke Field with its Combat Talon I aircraft. The unit will combine its forces with the 711th SOS, which also flies the Combat Talon I aircraft.
Under the associate unit concept, an active-duty unit owns the aircraft and Reserve crews and maintainers augment the missions. In this case, however, the Air Force Reserve will own all the Combat Talon I aircraft as both units form an associate unit flying the Combat Talon I aircraft.
The move is part of an overall plan for Air Force Special Operations Command to combine Reserve and active-duty components onto common airframes. These changes result from mission changes, adjustments for efficiency, congressional directives and implementation of the expeditionary aerospace force concept.
When the first CV-22 arrived at Hurlburt Field in NOvwmvwe 2006, activity at the 8th Special Operations Squadron started rolling at a fast-forward pace.
In Exercise Flintlock October – November 2008, four CV-22 aircraft from the 8th Special Operations Squadron (SOS), Hurlburt Field FL successfully completed their first self-deployment mission. The deployment covered some 5,300 nautical miles across the Atlantic Ocean to Bamako, Mali in support of Exercise FLINTLOCK-09. The exercise is a regularly scheduled training exercise in the Trans-Sahara region designed to build relationships and to enhance African nations’ ability to patrol and control their sovereign territory.
The exercise included personnel from 15 countries and the CV-22 served as a platform for multinational training. Specifically, the aircraft was used to transport Malian and Senegalese special operations forces (SOF) and leadership teams throughout the vast exercise region. The primary mission for the CV-22 was long range vertical lift, inserting SOF teams so they could practice ground maneuvers, then return in order to extract the teams.
The CV-22 proved to be a game changer during this exercise. Because of its long range capability, the teams were able to traverse the vast distances of the African continent in less time than a conventional helicopter. Taking advantage of the aircraft’s unique tiltrotor capabilities, missions over 500 nautical miles were routinely completed, infiltrating small teams and bringing them back without having to aerial refuel, and all within a four-hour window. This mission would have taken the MH-53 two to three times as long to complete.
In July 2009, six CV-22 aircraft from the 8th Special Operations Squadron (SOS) departed Hurlburt Field, FL, for their first operational deployment to Iraq. The CV-22s conducted a successful 7,000 nautical mile self-deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The aircraft completed the transatlantic crossing in 7 days while completing three aerial refuelings along the way. While deployed the CV-22’s primary mission was to conduct long-range infiltration, exfiltration and resupply missions for special operations forces.
During the deployment, the squadron executed and completed 45 direct action assault force INFIL/EXFIL missions and 123 combat service support missions, delivered over 30,250 pounds of cargo, and transported over 2,349 passengers. The CV-22s also supported the Iraqi Special Operations Forces (ISOF) in several operations to apprehend suspected terrorists. Although the new aircraft was flown by U.S. Air Force personnel, the troops and mission were led by the elite ISOF soldiers.
Five CV-22s and crews from the 8th Special Operations Squadron were deployed for the first CV operations in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in March, 2010. Their primary mission was to conduct infiltration and exfiltration of special operations forces. During the six month deployment, the squadron executed 68 direct action assault force INFIL/EXFIL missions. In this assault role, the aircraft delivered 4,069 assaulters, enabling the capture of 231 suspected terrorists. In the combat support role, over 87,000 pounds of cargo and 760 personnel were delivered.
On 1 June 2010 a coalition helicopter conducting a special operations raid was disabled on a target near Kunduz, Afghanistan. Stranded in the open, the aircrew and ground party were under small arms and mortar fire. Other theater aircraft made multiple rescue attempts, but none were successful due to rugged mountainous terrain and a severe dust storm.
Two 8th Special Operations Squadron CV-22 aircraft based at Kandahar launched within two hours of notification and flew a direct route at 15000 feet over the Hindu Kush mountain range. Using their advanced navigation and sensor suite, the flight was able to continue its mission through periods of very low visibility. A total of 32 US personnel were recovered from the target area. The CV-22s accomplished the round trip flight from Kandahar in less than 4 hours without requiring additional fuel.
After the completion of an assault mission, CV-22s were re-tasked with an urgent CASEVAC of an injured Afghan soldier who sustained a critical head injury. All other aviation assets were on stand down due to the poor visibility, less than a mile, around the surrounding airfields. The lead CV-22 performed a low visibility approach to the CASEVAC location. Once the casualty was loaded onboard, the formation proceeded directly to Kandahar. With the new flight control software, the crews were able to fly at 260 KCAS. The unique combination of speed, range, VTOL, and TF/TA radar made the CV-22 the perfect platform for this mission. The casualty was successfully stabilized and survived.
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