Special operations forces have a dedicated fleet of tricked-out helicopters at their disposal, but as their workload grows, they are increasingly reliant on conventional aircraft to get their jobs done.
A high operational tempo in Afghanistan has married conventional and special operations forces like never before, forcing a heightened level of cooperation at all levels, from commanding generals to aircraft pilots and crews.
It wasn't always so, especially when it came to sharing information and aircraft, according to Maj. Gen. Anthony Crutchfield, commander of the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence.
As a combat aviation brigade commander in Afghanistan, Crutchfield was once asked to provide aircraft in support of a special operations mission, he said at the Army Aviation Association of America's annual symposium.
Seeking information from his special operations counterpart, Crutchfield was turned away because he "didn't have a need to know."
"That was not the right answer ... telling that to a brigade commander who is supplying the aircraft for you to fly the mission," he said. "Quite frankly, it pissed me off."
Now the once-tense relationship has changed, at least from the perspective of Army aviation, which takes the lead on most rotary wing development and acquisitions. At least until the close of the war in Afghanistan, the services will be forced to continue that cooperation. At present, half of all special operations missions flown in that conflict are carried out using conventional aircraft.
"Since 9/11, special operations forces have become increasingly reliant on general-purpose forces to complete [their] mission," said Brig. Gen. Kevin Mangum, commander of Army Special Operations Aviation Command. "We can't do what we do without the great work our combat aviation brigades are doing on the battlefield."
Special operators fly versions of the UH-60 Black Hawk and CH-47 Chinook that are upgraded to fly farther and faster and with better sensor capabilities than standard aircraft. They also fly the CV-22, a version of the tilt-rotor Osprey operated by Air Force Special Operations Command.
Both the conventional and special operations versions of the various aircraft are essentially the same when built. All the elite gear for SOF is added after the basic model is manufactured.
"You're typically going to have improvements like extra fuel capacity, self-protection and additional sensors," said Douglas Royce, an...