Airmen from the 193rd Special Operations Wing, who operate the only flying military radio and TV broadcast platform in the US military, transmitted their final broadcast Sep. 17 to spectators at the Community Days Air Show at Lancaster Airport in Lititz, Pa., bringing to close a 54-year chapter in unit history.
As told by Master Sgt. Alexander Farver, in the article EC-130J Commando Solo performs final broadcast, the EC-130J Commando Solo psychological operations (PSYOPS) aircraft mission has helped keep this Air National Guard unit’s aircraft and its Airmen at the tip of spear for nearly every major US military operation since the Vietnam War. Before bombs dropped or troops deployed in the Global War on Terror following the attacks on Sep. 11, 2001, this specially modified aircraft was already over the skies of Afghanistan broadcasting to America’s enemies that the US military was bringing the fight to them.
“Any world event or crisis that our military has responded to in recent history, our 193rd Airmen – and Commando Solo – were likely key components in that response,” said Col. Eric McKissick, 193rd SOW vice commander. “As we prepare to open a new chapter in our history, we thank those who have enabled us to be among the very best wings in the Air National Guard.”
The genesis for this airborne information operations platform can be traced back to 1968 when the 193rd Tactical Electronics Warfare Group (TEWG) received its first aircraft, called the EC-121 Coronet Solo.
In the late 1970s, the aircraft were replaced by the EC-130E before finally being replaced by the current aircraft in 2003. The EC-130E was one of the aircraft used in the Iran Hostage Crisis Rescue attempt in 1980 called Operation Eagle Claw, but it has seen service in many battles both before and after this event. In November 2003, the first flight of the EC-130J Commando Solo III signaled a major milestone for the 193rd TEWG’s conversion from six Vietnam era EC-130Es to six EC-130Js.
Many modifications were made to the basic C-130J to create the EC-130, including enhanced navigation systems, self-protection equipment and air refueling. The majority of the engineering investment went into the integration of the special mission equipment capable of up to 14 simultaneous broadcasts with the same or independent messages on each channel. Keeping pace with information-technology systems, message playback is accomplished using media stored digitally, e.g. hard drives, but the aircraft is still capable of accepting legacy media formats (CD/DVD etc.). In addition to pre-recorded messages, the EC-130J has the capability to conduct live broadcasts.
Throughout its history, it was instrumental in the success of coordinated military information support operations, earning the wing the moniker of “the most deployed unit in the Air National Guard.” These deployments included: Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operations Odyssey Dawn/Unified Protector in Libya, Operation Inherent Resolve, Operation Resolute Support/Freedom’s Sentinel, Operation Secure Tomorrow and Operation Unified Response in Haiti.
Although this unique mission has earned the wing many prestigious accolades, Lt. Col. Michael Hackman, 193rd Special Operations Squadron commander, believes the mission’s success and legacy lies in winning the hearts and minds of adversaries and providing vital information to allies, refugees and victims in times of crisis.
“This capability has been an essential tool in our nation’s inventory, from the battlefields to assisting hurricane and earthquake-ravaged nations,” Hackman said. “During this time, thousands of Pennsylvania Air National Guard volunteers fulfilled their call to duty in this unique capacity, leveraging this capability against U.S. adversaries and supporting allies while always fulfilling the unit tenet of ‘Never Seen, Always Heard.’”
Aside from sporting an impressive operational record, the aircraft holds another distinction with having completed over 226,000 hours of accident-free flying.
“Having that many thousands of hours of accident-free flying is a testament to the excellence of our maintainers, to the operators and anybody who has touched that aircraft. Thank you for leaving that foundation and setting that example that we’re building from,” said Col. Jaime Ramirez, 193rd Special Operations Maintenance Group commander.
McKissick believes the success of the 193rd in operating the Commando Solo mission over the past few decades has led to Air Force Special Operations Command selecting the wing to be the first and only ANG unit to operate the MC-130J Commando II. The Commando II flies clandestine, or low visibility, single or multiship, low-level infiltration, exfiltration and resupply of special operations forces, by airdrop or airland and air refueling missions for special operations helicopters and tiltrotor aircraft, intruding politically sensitive or hostile territories.
The final broadcast of the EC-130J was transmitted to the ground and played at the Community Days Air Show at Lancaster Airport. In the transmission, the wing thanked the local community for their support over the past 54 years before broadcasting the Santo and Johnny song, “Sleepwalk.”
The transmission ended with the phrase, “Commando Solo, music off.”
Photo credit: U.S. Air National Guard
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