Combat Aviation Advisors all call the 6TH Special Operations Squadron home; it is the only Combat Aviation Advisory Organization in the Air Force. Though its mission is Foreign Internal Defense (FID) and Combat Foreign Internal Defense (CFID), those aren’t the preferred AFSOC catchwords. They use phrases like “combat aviation advisory unit” and “non-standard aircraft squadron” rather than sticking to the FID-A (Foreign Internal Defense-Aviation) other services use.
[CAA airmen will…] “operate with, by and through indigenous/foreign forces to bring foreign airpower into play…”
They conduct assessments, provide training and advice and support foreign aviation combat units in just about every imaginable area supporting combat air operations (aircraft maintenance, logistics, sortie planning, air-ground CAS type coordination and C3 just to name a few. All members of the 6TH SOS must be qualified instructors in their area of expertise, they must have an AFSC professional 7-level rating and must have some sort language skills.
“The United States Special Operations Command is the traditional home of standing advisory forces. The command’s primary reservoir of operational advisory talent lies in one reserve and six active Navy sea-air-land (SEAL) teams, six national guard and fifteen active battalions of Army Special Forces, and one battalion-size squadron of Air Force combat aviation advisors. When employed together, surface, maritime, and air advisors provide the multidimensional capability necessary to improve the joint capabilities of foreign military forces. Of the three, Air Force advisors are the smallest, least well known, and most misunderstood capability...” Lt. Col. Norman Brozenick, 2002 (note: this was before USSOCOM expansion and the creation of MARSOC)
Even within the distinct and unique units of AFSOC, Combat Aviation Advisors are a little different. The pilots aren’t typical fighter jocks or heavy drivers; they train to fly the aircraft that would are prevalent in their projected AOR. These could include Rusian Mi-17 helos, French AS-332 Super Pumas, all manner of C-130 and Huey helo variants…essentially any breed of aircraft that would conceivably be driven by host nations the US is attempting to support, from the Air Forces of Afghanistan to Senegal to Colombia, large numbers of them older than the airmen flying and fighting them.
“It is cost prohibitive to train in every aircraft listed in theater requirements. Therefore, while at home station advisors train in categories and types of aircraft generally representative of those operated by friendly foreign aviation forces. The aim is to build transferable skills that can be relied upon for expeditious yet safe qualification in a variety of foreign platforms. In the rotary-wing category, advisors fly two training-coded UH-1N helicopters to maintain skills required to support light helicopter (i.e. Mi-2, Bell-412) employment. Many medium-lift training objectives are achieved by training in a leased Mi-8 MTV “Hip” helicopter of Russian design. Fixed-wing advisors fly two training-coded CASA-212 aircraft to maintain light tactical transport skills (i.e. CASA-235 or Cessna King Air). Medium tactical transport training objectives are currently met by flying a leased Russian-built An-32 “Cline.” Advisors also fly C-130E transport aircraft assigned to the parent organization…” Brozenick
The 6TH SOS stood up in 1994 to predictable resistance from Big Air Force. For years there were just a few dozen personnel assigned and a limited budget available, even as late as the invasion of Iraq. In 2005, over half the request from allied Air Forces were turned down due to lack of resources and manning. This changed in 2007, when the squadron was doubled in size. Given their incredible operations tempo and the heavy emphasis now on local FID efforts in CENTCOM, AFRICOM and SOUTHCOM (FID is a massive part of the overarching Global War on Terror strategy), it seems odd that they would still be the only CAA squadron in AFSOC but they are.
“As a result of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the ground and maritime FID parts of the Phoenix cycle were also broken as the Defense Department increased Army Special Forces and civil affairs units and Navy SEAL platoons, and created a Marine Corps special operations command. However, the Phoenix cycle for aviation FID still needs attention. A re-creation of the historical capabilities of an Outback Air Force would provide air support to the ground and maritime forces operating in the most remote regions. Fortunately, the seeds for this capability had been planted with the creation of the 6th Special Operations Squadron and the Central Command Air Forces’ air advisory efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan...” Col (Ret) George Monroe
CAA airmen face many challenges. There are language barriers, often a very significant local threat and then all the on-the-job issues…maintainers are often forced to repair, and then teach their foreign counterparts to repair, aircraft for which there haven’t been any sort of maintenance instructions or manuals in decades (if ever).
The idea of FID-A isn’t new, of course. CAA Air Commandos taught Thai pilots to fly AT-28 fighter-bombers, then in 1964-65 they taught Laotian Hmong tribesmen to fly the same aircraft.Veterans of the Vietnam War (and those who’ve read about it) may recall “Jungle Jim”, the 4400TH Combat Crew Training Squadron TAC (Tactical Air Command) established in 1961.
Before that, airmen had deployed to Iran to train Shah Mohamad Reza Pahlavi’s counterinsurgency forces engaged in fighting Kurdish forces. More lately they have trained foreign aviators in Kyrgystan, Georgia, Nepal, Morocco, Yemen, Uzbekistan, Ukraine and the Philippines.
Much as Army Special Forces Groups have “assigned’ primary AORs in the world, organizational flights within the 6TH SOS are set up for regional deployment. Alpha Flight supports SOUTHCOM, Bravo Flight supports PACOM and the remaining four flights are largely divided between CENCOM and EUCOM.
Flights are divided into Operational Aviation Detachment-B (OAD-B) and Operational Aviation Detachment-A (OAD-A) elements. An OAD-B is approximately a squad sized element tasked with logistics, administrative support and C3 to subordinate “tactical” OAD-As. The latter are teams of individuals with a wide array of skills related to the operational (regional) environments they support. They may have rotary-wing flight instructors, fixed-wing aircrew instructors or both, along with maintenance personnel, security/force protection personnel, commo troops, etc. (The similarity to Special Forces A-Teams is obvious.) Deployed OAD-As almost always have a Pararescueman, a Combat Controller or both.
Combat Aviation Advisor billets are a four-year controlled, special-duty tour.
For more information there are a number of resources on the net and via DoD and AFSOC PAO channels:
In particular, check out the Air Commando Association Library: substantial amounts of material and history on there.
Consider reading Another Way to Fight: Combat Aviation Advisory Operations (a paper from the Air University)
You should definitely read Rebirth of the Outback Air Force
Read also Combat Aviation Advisors of the 6TH SOS (Defense Media Network)
Read also Operation Enduring Freedom: The First 49 Days/SOF and Enduring Freedom 7: AFSOC Begins a Long War
Read also The SOF Makeover
Read also Special Forces Fly Second Hand Skies