Air Force Special Operations Command’s new network of so-called power projection wings is starting to come to fruition.
An Air Force news release revealed Wednesday that its special operations branch is in the process of reshaping three wings — two of which had not yet been made public — in a bid to prepare for a faster-paced, unpredictable way of war.
Those units are the 1st Special Operations Wing at Hurlburt Field, Florida; the 27th SOW at Cannon AFB, New Mexico; and the 492nd Special Operations Wing, which will move from Hurlburt Field to Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona, Air Force Special Operations Command spokesperson Lt. Col. Becky Heyse said Thursday.
AFSOC already uses “power projection” to describe its ability to conduct operations overseas. What’s new is how the command is looking to organize and wield those units.
The wings will pull together a range of special operations missions, from airborne strike and surveillance to ground forces. Each will be loosely affiliated with a combatant command overseas, like U.S. European Command or U.S. Central Command, to build regional expertise and become a go-to group of airmen for that area’s toughest missions.
The move is part of AFSOC’s attempt to reimagine what its airmen can do after decades at war in U.S. Central Command. So far, that has led to further integration of nontraditional fields like cyber and a push to cut some of the troops that coordinate airstrikes on the ground, among other shifts.
At Davis-Monthan, the effort to stand up a new wing also marks a new chapter in air-to-ground combat as the Air Force prepares to retire its A-10C Thunderbolt II attack planes by the end of the decade.
The Air Force first noted its intent to create the organization in its fiscal 2024 budget request, which referred to the unit as the “492nd Power Projection Wing” at Davis-Monthan.
Wednesday’s release offered more insight into how the organization will come together over the next five years.
When the 492nd Special Operations Wing relocates from Florida, it will give up its current training mission and instead bring in several different units:
- One OA-1K armed overwatch squadron from Hurlburt Field
- An unnamed MC-130J Commando II transport squadron from Cannon, likely the 9th Special Operations Squadron
- A new MC-130J squadron
- The 21st Special Tactics Squadron from Pope Army Airfield, North Carolina
- The 22nd STS from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington
- A new 492nd Theater Air Operations Squadron from Duke Field, Florida, which will coordinate Air Force special ops missions around the world
- The 34th Weapons Squadron, a combat search-and-rescue training unit from Nellis AFB, Nevada
- The 88th Test and Evaluation Squadron from Nellis, which is vetting the new HH-60W Jolly Green II helicopter
Three A-10C squadrons at Davis-Monthan will shutter, and their nearly 80 “Warthogs” retire, as those units move in.
In addition to keeping jobs at the Tucson installation after the A-10 leaves, the Air Force hopes that moving squadrons to Arizona will help protect special operations forces from the effects of natural disasters — like the hurricanes that decimate the Gulf of Mexico and East Coast regions each year — so that airmen can deploy overseas when called upon.
Davis-Monthan was also an attractive option because of its proximity to millions of acres of training range space in Arizona, the service said.
The Air Force did not say whether any other bases were considered to host the 492nd SOW. Officials will make a final decision on moving the wing to Arizona following an environmental study.
Heyse said the 1st and 27th SOWs will largely remain unchanged as part of the new approach to power projection wings. Both organizations fly a diverse set of platforms, including the tiltrotor CV-22 Osprey, MQ-9 Reaper drone, AC-130J gunship and more.
The new OA-1K armed overwatch planes will replace the U-28 fleet at the 27th SOW after nearly two decades in service.
Meanwhile, the 492nd’s current training missions will scatter.
Its training unit for the AC-130J Ghostrider gunship will instead fall under Air Education and Training Command at Kirtland AFB, New Mexico, starting in fiscal 2025. The unit in charge of training for the U-28 Draco reconnaissance plane will shut down, as the Air Force retires that fleet for the OA-1K and plans to move the schoolhouse to Will Rogers Air National Guard Base, Oklahoma.
Officials haven’t decided what will become of the training unit that handles the C-146 transport aircraft, Heyse said. And the schoolhouse for other AFSOC support staff, like medics and security forces, will fall under a new Air Commando Development Center at Hurlburt.
The center launched at a July 14 ceremony in Florida.
Rachel Cohen is the editor of Air Force Times. She joined the publication as its senior reporter in March 2021. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Frederick News-Post (Md.), Air and Space Forces Magazine, Inside Defense, Inside Health Policy and elsewhere.