By Robert Bruce
“When we go outside the wire, it is no joke. There are people out there who want to kill Coalition forces.” USAF Tech Sergeant Earl Rogers, Tactical Security Element Operations, 455th ESFS
Protecting air bases in combat zones is a very tall order. Multimillion dollar aircraft and the airmen who accompany them present irresistible targets for those who hate Americans and have sworn to kill them by any means possible. Unfortunately, the means are readily available to most terrorists.
Precision sniper weapons, rocket propelled grenades, mines and improvised explosive devices, mortars and heavy rockets, as well as sophisticated surface-to-air missiles, are just some items in their grim catalog of conventional threats. Add to these the unconventional threats of suicide bombs, chemical and biological agents. And, where will one of those Soviet “suitcase nukes” that can’t be accounted for be used?
Defensor Fortis: Defending the Force
In response, the US Air Force has radically changed the structure and employment of its Security Forces. Thousands of new members have been fielded and more are on the way, undergoing intense countermeasures training at Lackland AFB, Texas, to meet the growing list of threats at home and abroad.
Basic security courses for both enlisted personnel and officers have been substantially lengthened to develop greater proficiency in critical tasks like missile security, as well as capture and recovery of nuclear weapons. Some new skills, based on recent experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, have been added to the curriculum. Students are now being taught convoy security techniques, patrolling, and urban warfare.
This goes a long way toward ensuring that graduates will be well prepared to immediately take up regular duties when they report to Expeditionary Security Forces (ESFs) – units specially trained, equipped and manned for force protection missions in combat zones.
They get assigned all around the world where the Air Force operates from well established bases or hastily bulldozed dirt strips. Whether it’s Baghdad International Airport or the Philippine jungles, ESFs are the critical element in protecting expensive aircraft and legions of airmen needed to keep ‘em flying.
The most basic element of this security is a defensive perimeter with physical barriers and heavily armed guards. Entry control points are continually manned and all vehicles and personnel wishing to enter are carefully screened, often by specially trained dogs. Roving sentries move around parked aircraft and the structures that house maintenance, ordnance, refueling and administrative operations.
Others in elevated observation points use powerful binoculars and night vision devices to scan the terrain for signs of suspicious activity. Highly trained counter-sniper marksmen are ready to take out enemy gunmen. Sophisticated electronic intrusion detection devices tirelessly wait to send an alarm when disturbed. Remotely controlled surveillance planes fly television cameras over the surrounding area, seeking those who might foolishly intend to set up a mortar or fire an anti-aircraft missile.
Mounted and foot patrols are also sent outside the perimeter. In addition to the obvious necessity for first-hand reconnaissance, this yields other benefits including interaction with the local population. In the best cases this will yield intelligence tips so that raids can be carried out to find weapons caches and capture terrorists before they can strike.
Protection for convoys moving military supplies and humanitarian aid is a brand new requirement for the Air Force. A course is now taught at Lackland to prepare SFs to deal with ambushes, improvised explosive devices and other threats to truck trains rolling through hostile territory in Iraq and Afghanistan. And, borrowing a concept perfected in the Vietnam War, armored and heavily armed Gun Trucks are being used for the job.
Armed escorts are also provided by SFs to protect lone aircraft at locations and situations where the threat is real but existing security is less than adequate. Specially trained personnel of the Phoenix Raven and Fly Away Security Team programs are roughly equivalent to Federal Sky Marshals, riding aboard for flight deck entry denial and perimeter security during short layovers.
Additionally, agents of the Air Force’s Office of Special Investigation often need extra security when operating among native populations. SFs provide bodyguard type protection as OSIs conduct counterintelligence missions, weapons searches and apprehension of suspected anti-coalition operatives.
Tools of the Trade
The Air Force has a well deserved reputation for buying the best and this is reflected in the guns and gear issued to Expeditionary Security Forces. While similar to that in use by combat zone military police units of the Army and Marines, SF equipment tends to be newer, better and cleaner. Their body armor, load carrying equipment, communications gear, sights and surveillance devices, and hardened Hummvees are objects of envy for counterparts in other services.
Small arms include standard 9mm M9 semiautomatic pistols, 12 gauge pump shotguns, and 5.56mm M16A2 rifles and M4 carbines. While some of the old M60 machine guns are still in use, most SFs boast the fine M249 SAW and M240 general purpose guns. Heavy hitting comes in the form of 40mm grenade launchers of the M203 and Mark 19 variety, and venerable .50 caliber M2HB machine guns reach way out to perforate any perpetrators. Precision marksmanship at extreme ranges day or night comes from highly trained sniper/observer teams armed with the M24 system.
When the need arises they can sometimes call on EOD (Explosive Ordnance Demolition) to lend a hand with .50 caliber Barrett M82 series rifles.
Low to no light operations are essential and a good set of these tools is available to ESFs. Visible beam tactical lights are integrated into selected weapons for appropriate situations and helmet mounted PVS-7 goggles work quite well with rifle mounted PAQ-4 infrared pointers when stealth is paramount. Most all the other alphabet soup of military NVDs are around including PVS 4 and 5 “starlight scope” weapon sights and some newer thermal imagers.
How to Join USAF Security Force enlisted personnel carry the Air Force Specialty Code of 3P0XXX. Applicants must meet strict guidelines. Additional schooling is available for dog handlers, snipers and other skills. Also, demand is high for experienced security personnel trained in the USAF and other branches of the US Armed Forces. Contact your local recruiter and be sure to ask if enlistment bonuses are available.
US Air Force on the Internet – www.af.mil
USAF Security Forces –
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V8N7 (April 2005)|