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US Air Force planners want irreguar warfare wing

US Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) planners have called for the stand-up of a new "irregular warfare" wing dedicated to fighting insurgents and terrorists with an aircraft fleet numbering 44 airlifters, 20 helicopters and 20 turboprop strike fighters.

AFSOC's proposal, which is described in a recent internal White Paper obtained by Flight International, would dramatically increase the air force's assets dedicated to the counter-insurgency mission, which now includes a single squadron equipped with two Bell Helicopter UH-1N utility helicopters.

"The USAF should establish an irregular warfare wing capable of providing assistance to partner nations across the full spectrum in developing and employing indigenous air and space power to defeat irregular internal threats," says the AFSOC document, which includes a foreword signed by its commander, Lt Gen Michael Wooley.

In response to questions, AFSOC says: "The air force is looking at several options to help support the 'Global War on Terror' and the concept of an irregular warfare wing is just one."

But the idea for standing up an irregular warfare wing with a strike and mobility fleet dedicated to the counter-insurgency mission is clearly gaining some momentum. Earlier this year, Rand's "Project Air Force" published a monograph also calling on the service to create an irregular warfare wing within its force structure. In April, top air force leaders also held a counter-insurgency aircraft summit at the Air University at Maxwell AFB, Alabama.

The Rand study notes that the air force's only counter-terrorism unit - the 6th Special Operations Squadron - is over-subscribed by a factor of two to four times capacity.

The irregular warfare wing concept seeks to introduce the first dedicated strike aircraft for fighting insurgent forces since the Douglas A-1 Skyraider in the Vietnam war.

"One possible candidate for the light strike role is the air-to-ground modified [Beechcraft] AT-6B. Other candidate aircraft include the [Embraer] Tucano or Super Tucano," the AFSOC paper states. The authors add that a Cessna Caravan "might be useful as a light mobility, strike, or intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft depending on its configuration".

Perhaps more important than the light strike component, the new wing should operate four Lockheed Martin C-130s in a "heavy mobility" role, as well as 20 medium lift and 20 light mobility aircraft. The latter can be comprised of Cessnas or EADS Casa C-212s, while the former might be the Alenia Aeronautica C-27J Spartan Joint Cargo Aircraft.

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