Air Force Special Operations Command’s 3rd Special Operations Squadron at Cannon AFB, N.M., the command’s sole unmanned aerial vehicle squadron, is one of the most in-demand units for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Lt. Gen. Donald Wurster, AFSOC boss, called the 3rd SOS an example of “industrial strength airpower,” before introducing its commander, Lt. Col. Paul Caltagirone, Sept. 15 at AFA’s Air & Space Conference in Washington, D.C. Caltagirone said that last year the unit flew around 61,000 combat flight hours—more than the rest of AFSOC combined. More than 92 percent of the new squadron—still shy about half its authorized number—participates in these combat sorties, said Caltagirone, who noted, too, that the unit has never flown a training mission, since it directly entered the fight after activation. The 3rd SOS operators meticulously surveil sites and persons and gather information on movements, locations, and makes what Caltagirone terms “pattern of life analysis,” before a raid or strike on a high value target, As a result, the squadron is constantly updating tactics, techniques, and procedures gained from combat. “The enemy is not dumb, they kind of know how we do what we do,” he added. The good news: The 3rd SOS is adding personnel rapidly and, Caltagirone says that with every seven personnel he can put up another combat air patrol.
The Air Force overall reduced its size by 120 aircraft in fiscal year 2021, but kept about the same number of fighter, bomber and attack aircraft, according to data supplied by the service. The F-35 fleet saw the biggest increase while the B-1B bomber fleet saw the largest decline.