Special Operations eyeing more for Cannon

Freedom Newspapers

Air Force Special Operations Command is considering moving elements from Japan and Britain to Cannon Air Force Base, according to a published report.

The move would affect AFSOC units at Kadena Air Base on Okinawa and RAF Mildenhall in England, Lt. Gen. Michael W. Wooley told Stars and Stripes last week.

“(Defense) Secretary (Robert) Gates has tasked (SOCOM Commander) Gen. (Bryan) Brown to flesh out the plan, so we are right now working on how we would do that if given the authority,” Wooley said.

AFSOC spokeswoman Denise Boyd said she could not elaborate on Wooley’s comments but confirmed they were accurate.

She issued the following statement regarding the proposed moves:

“U.S. Special Operations Command, like the rest of the Department of Defense, is reviewing Special Operations forces stationing as part of the Department of Defense’s global posture strategy. DOD will release any information concerning changes to SOF stationing when all of the necessary decisions have been made and are complete.”

AFSOC has proposed moving approximately 100 aircraft and 5,680 airmen to Cannon by 2010 and would assume ownership of Cannon in October.

Boyd said the Air Force will make its final decision on Cannon after the final draft of the Environmental Impact Statement is released this summer.

She said the earliest new 16th Special Operations Wing troops would arrive at Cannon would be in January.

She said the first Special Ops aircraft scheduled to arrive at the base will be MC-130W aircraft, dubbed the “Combat Spear,” which are fresh off the production line. She said the planes are used to transport troops and equipment behind enemy lines.

Wooley said AFSOC is expected to grow from 13,000 to about 15,000 personnel over the next five years, and it looks to add 24 transport aircraft to accommodate the growing special operations community.

“With all of our growth, new personnel, new airplanes, we could not put all that stuff at (Hurlburt Field, Fla.), so we need to open a second base,” he told Stars and Stripes.

One major advantage of Cannon is that the base has its own range, Wooley said.

“To have an air-ground capability that belongs to special ops is going to be huge for us,” he said.

According to the Mildenhall’s Web site, the England-based 352nd Special Operations Group plans and executes general war and contingency operations in Europe and the Middle East using MC-130H Combat Talon II, MH-53M Pave Low and MC-130P Combat Shadow aircraft.

The unit is about to undergo a period of transition as it deactivates its fleet of five HM-53 Pave Low helicopters this fall and prepares to take on a contingent of CV-22 Osprey vertical lift fixed-wing aircraft, according to Stars and Stripes.

The 353rd Special Operations Group at Kadena is an element of AFSOC at Hurlburt Field, Fla., according to the Okinawa base’s Web site.