Air–Special Operations Integration

Authored by: James D. Kiras

Routledge Handbook of Air Power

Print publication date:  February  2018
Online publication date:  February  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138632608
eBook ISBN: 9781315208138
Adobe ISBN:


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Air and special operations have a long history of attempts to integrate. This chapter highlights a range of operations and experiments conducted during the two world wars, arguing that proper integration was unsuccessful primarily due to the inability of operators on the ground to communicate directly with aircraft en route. Rather than trying to integrate conventional air power with special operations, the preferred solution was to create air missions to support special operations. Given the size of conventional forces during the Cold War, addressing integration meant the establishment of special mission air units to address specific tactical requirements. Dividends for US Special Operations Forces (SOF) came through the development of a number of SOF-unique platforms, many of which are used in upgraded variants today. More tangible integration occurred as a result of legislation that created an overarching organisation to address special operations: the United States Special Operations Command. This model has been adapted in for example Russia, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and Denmark. This chapter concludes that such organisations promote greater integration tactically and operationally in terms of direct support to special operations units, but that integration in its other sense, ‘synergy between air and special operations’, remains elusive.

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