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Joint SPEC OPS: Air Force, Navy Test Rescue Scenario

Air Force special operations troops prepare to launch an inflatable boat from the deck of USS Alabama (SSBN-731).

A U.S. fighter pilot has been shot down. He is injured and behind enemy lines, but he has established communications and is evading the enemy. Time is a critical factor. He needs to be rescued, and he needs to be rescued now.
Submerged off the coast, 19,000 tons of stealth in the form of an Ohio-class SSGN submarine lies waiting. It’s equipped with operational equipment and storage to support over 60 Special Operations Forces (SOF). Notice it reads SOF, not just Navy Special Warfare (SEALs). This is a joint platform that caters to all SOF warriors from all services. And if all else fails, it has over 150 Tomahawk missiles at its disposal that can be precision guided down Main Street and right into Mr. Bad Guy’s living room. Talk about surround sound.

A team of operators from an Air Force Special Tactics Squadron (STS) is stationed nearby. They receive word that their unique services are needed. Para-Rescue Jumpers (PJs) are trained emergency medical technician special operators capable of jumping into a combat zone and rescuing personnel from any environment. They’ll be joined by their Combat Controller teammates, who jump in with them to control air power at the objective and provide all command, control, and communications for the clandestine team’s missions. Together, with their comrades, the Special Operations Weathermen, they form a unique and versatile team within the joint SOF community: the Air Force Special Operations Command’s Special Tactics Squadron.

In this particular mission, the STS operators will fly out to meet the submarine aboard a Navy search and recovery helicopter. They’ll drop onto the slippery deck by fast-roping from the helicopter. Then, the Airmen will go below with their gear to set up for the rescue mission.

The submarine goes back under the water and moves closer to the shoreline. From there, the STS team will leave the submarine after pulling all their gear, boats, and engines through one of the sub’s hatches, inflate their boats, and zoom in to the shore. The plan calls for meeting the downed pilot, treating his injuries, and zooming back out to sea for a complex rendezvous with the sub.

It’s scenarios like these that require cooperation among the services. It also requires practice to iron out the wrinkles in the process. That is where USS Alabama (SSBN-731) stepped up to provide a practice platform for the Air Force’s 22nd and 23rd Special Tactics Squadrons. The Airmen spent November 11-18 aboard the submarine practicing various scenarios in which their services would be required. Alabama is an Ohio-class Fleet Ballistic Missile Submarine, and served as a surrogate for the SSGN.

The sail of Alabama as seen through night vision equipment.

Photo Sail of Alabama caption above