By Bailey Wyman.
The Air Force Special Operations Command is introducing Theater Air Operations Squadrons to bolster its capabilities and adapt to the ever-changing operational landscape.
“The genesis of this initiative traces back to the post-9/11 era when AFSOC primarily directed its efforts towards crisis response and countering violent extremist organizations,” said Lt. Col. Weston Higbee, 1st Special Operation Theater Air Operations Squadron commander. “While successful, this focus limited the potential of Air Force Special Operations Forces.”
In response, the 2022 National Defense Strategy has urged a shift toward enhancing deterrence through partnerships and proactive actions in multi-domain operations, or competitive interactions among and within state and non-state actors that fall between the traditional war and peace duality. Addressing the challenges presented by today’s complex national security environment requires a multi-lens, multi-layer approach. The T-AOS is AFSOC’s approach to addressing the complexity of these national security challenges.
The Theater Engagement Construct emerges as an ideal framework, aligning regionally tailored AFSOF solutions with the specific requirements of Geographic Combatant Commands, Theater Special Operations Commands, and Theater Air Component Commands. This strategic pivot marks a transition from short-term episodic engagements to a sustained campaign-centric approach, enabling proper responses to the evolving and diverse operating environment.
At the core of the TEC is the establishment of Theater Air Operations Squadrons, providing three distinct capabilities crucial to their aligned regions. Determining SOF air capabilities and limitations, gaining advanced understandings of regional complexities, and utilizing regional and AFSOF expertise for effective execution of the mission. Through this, T-AOS provides the backbone to create the most effective TEC possible.
The mission statement encapsulates the T-AOS purpose, emphasizing regional synchronization, integration, enablement, and selective employment of AFSOF capabilities to enhance their advantage against national priorities and strategic competitors, providing multi-domain options for the Joint Force. By acting as the synchronization and integration lead, the T-AOS ensures capabilities in the TEC span the Security Cooperation spectrum.
The squadrons are strategically aligned with five geographic combatant commands, emphasizing the importance of tailored training based on their assigned areas of responsibility, with the 1 SOTAOS being the first squadron of its kind introduced in AFSOC.
“The introduction of Theater Air Operations Squadrons stands as a significant advancement for AFSOC, enabling a more nuanced, region-specific approach to operational challenges,” said Higbee. “The strategic alignment with the 2022 National Defense Strategy underscores AFSOC’s commitment to enhancing capabilities and effectively addressing the evolving complexities of the national security environment.”
The 1st Special Operations Theater Air Operations Squadron hosted its activation ceremony October 18th, 2023, at Hurlburt Field, Florida, marking an immense shift in the capabilities of AFSOC in various theaters of operation.
This story by Airman 1st Class Bailey Wyman was first published on October 19, 2023, by the Defense Visual Information Distribution Service. DVIDS content is in the public domain. Photo: U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Weston Higbee, 1st Special Operations Theater Air Operations Squadron commander, gives remarks at the 1 SOTAOS activation ceremony at Hurlburt Field, Florida, Oct. 19, 2023. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Bailey Wyman)
Editor’s Note: A comprehensive article about the T-AOS has been published by N.K. Cobb, an academic chair at Joint Special Operations University, entitled “T-AOS: A New Model for Competition”, AEther, Air University, October 24, 2023.