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a unified team in specific mission areas to meet the intense demands of special operations.


“Operation RICE BOWL, the


attempt to rescue American hostages from the United States Embassy in Iran, ended in disaster at the Desert One refu- eling site in April 1980. As a result, the Holloway Commission convened to analyze why the mission failed and rec- ommend corrective actions. This led to the gradual reorganization and rebirth of United States special operations forces.” By 1984, after lessons learned


from RICE BOWL, a few MC-130Es were being modified with helicopter air refueling capability for use in spe- cial operations. But the small fleet of Combat Talons could not keep up with the growing number of in-flight refu- elable special ops HH-3 and MH-53J helicopters. Thus, in August, 1989, when 23d Air Force became an official component of US Special Operations Command, 28 HC-130s shifted from Air Rescue and Recovery Service to Military Airlift Command’s 23rd Air Force. 23rd Air Force then officially became Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) on May 22nd, 1990. The AFSOC HC-130s remained un-named for several years; no longer “Kings,” yet assigned no other official moniker. Regardless of re-naming initia- tives, aircrews had certainly started the transition to flying special ops missions with AFSOC HC-130s. For example, as the only HAR pod-equipped C-130s in the Pacific in 1989 (when the 33rd ARRS HC-130s became the 17th SOS), the HC-130s became essential as an air refueling platform for the newly-arrived 31st SOS MH-53J “Pave Low” heli- copters in that theater. A similar set of events was unfolding in Europe and at Eglin/Hurlburt, so HC-130 aviators had to adapt quickly. Working with SOF teammates meant that CSAR method- ologies were no longer relevant. In the early 1990s, with the help of


numerous young, energetic officer and enlisted aircrew, AFSOC leaders started reshaping the HC-130 force from a conventional “rescue” mentality into a special operations NVG low-level infil/ exfil weapon system. There were a few


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hold-out personalities who wanted to maintain the “search and rescue mission” status quo, but most Airmen eagerly took on the new special ops mission. In the early days, USSOCOM


invested in new Center Wings for the (then) 25-year-old MC-130E and HC-130P aircraft. As a result, they had an improved life expectancy. (This smart decision paid off big dividends 20 years later, in 2006, when most Air Force C-130Es were grounded due to cracked Center Wings). 23rd Air Force had also initiated a major upgrade program for the HC-130 with improved self-con- tained navigation systems, an integrated Infrared Detection System (FLIR), an improved radar and situation display, Radar Warning Receivers, IR and RF Countermeasures, and NVG compatible lighting. These block-modifications, dubbed “SOF-I” for SOF-Improvements, would vastly improve operations when flying on NVGs to conduct low-level flight to helicopter air refueling. It also improved airdrop and airland accuracy. The new SOF-I aircraft arrived at the


9th SOS for Operational Testing in late 1993; it would soon become a force multiplier for the command at a critical time in history. By this time, the new SOF mind-


set for the former rescue aircrews had already taken hold. DESERT STORM had clinched that ethos for the crews once and for all. 23rd Air Force had suc- cessfully recruited a number of talented “Honey Badger,” C-130E SOLL II, AWADS (All-Weather Aerial Delivery System), and other qualified aircrews to take these squadrons into a new era. By 1995, the availability of SOF-I modi- fied HC-130s caught up to the aircrews’ capabilities and solidified the mission. As a result of all these factors, the HQ AFSOC/DO and XP, were finally suc- cessful in re-designating the AFSOC HC-130 into a no-kidding SOF variant; the MC-130P “Combat Shadow.” It was about time too; the aircraft was a dif- ferent weapon system and its aircrews were, by then, an integral part of the joint SOF team. Superb leadership, combined with


Top: MC-130J cargo compartment looking forward. Bottom left: Heads-up display on a


C-130J displays significant information. Bottom right: Loadmaster Control Panel (All photos courtesy of Lockheed-Martin)


Fall 2011 │ AIR COMMANDO JOURNAL │ 31


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