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193rd Special Operations Wing

As commanders come to understand the force multiplier effect psychological operations provides they find that they have a significant delivery means in the 193rd Special Operations Wing of Harrisburg, PA EC-130 Commando Solo, flying PSYOP platform. This aircraft is able to broadcast products developed by Army PSYOP units on AM and FM radio, and TV images over any frequency.

Flying high over a battlefield or a troubled country, the six planes of the 193rd Special Operations Wing of the Pennsylvania Air National Guard do a job they say is unique in the world.

Each of the C-130 cargo planes has been converted to flying radio and television stations, capable of preempting a country's normal programming and replacing it with whatever informational broadcast that is felt necessary to get the message through to the listening audience.

"Electrons not bullets" is the motto of the 193rd Special Operations Wing of Harrisburg, PA which fly the EC-130s "Command Solo" flying PSYOP platforms. The 193rd usually receive their mission taskings from the state department, who have identified a "problem area" requiring the use of these specially equipped aircraft. The U.S. Army's 4th Psychological Operations Group (Airborne) at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, the only active duty component psychological operations unit is then tasked to develop and produce messages for broadcasts. These messages are then reviewed and approved by the State Department before delivery to the 193rd Special Operations Wing. If the decision is for the message to be broadcast live ( which is preferable to allow for adjustments/ modifications to the message based on late breaking news) rather than by tape message, a linguist from the 4th PSYOP Group will accompany the 193rd to broadcast the message in the native tongue of the target audience.

Once airborne, the mission control chief and five electronic communications systems operators occupy their search, medium and high frequency, very high frequency, and ultra-high frequency monitoring positions in the mission compartment. The compartment has cassette and reel-to-reel audio recorders, a video recorder, television monitors, receivers, noise modulators, transmitters and a live microphone.

The mission control chief, together with the theater commander's planning staff, plans where the orbit areas will be set up to ensure the best reception signal to and from the target audience. Rather than try to overpower an existing signal, the crew of the EC-130 will normally broadcast on an open frequency. The search operator monitors radio and television frequencies to find one that is clear of other broadcasts and is within the range of the target. The operators then tune up transmitters inside the aircraft and corresponding antennae on the outside of the aircraft. Signals can be transmitted from either side of the aircraft, depending on the direction to the target. An electronics operator plays the message tape through a video or audio recorder to other operators who transmit the signal over the airway.

To ensure the target audience is listening, other PSYOP means, such and loudspeaker broadcasts or leaflets will inform the target audience of the frequency being used.

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So how effectual are the EC-130s in getting their message across? On Thanksgiving Day 1990, the 193rd SOW began broadcasting "Voice of America" into the Kuwait theater of operations, helping to prepare the battlefield psychologically by offering the Iraqi soldiers food, bedding and medical care if they surrendered and reminded them of the consequences if they did not. The text of one broadcast on 11 February 1991 was along the lines of:

" Your only safety is across the Saudi Arabian border.
That is where the bombing and the starvation stop.
The Joint Forces offer you asylum. They offer you a warm bed,
medical attention and three filling meals a day.
Embrace your Arab brothers and share in their peace".

These broadcasts combined with the PSYOP leaflet and loudspeaker broadcast programs were major motivating factors to the estimated 100,000 soldiers who surrendered or deserted by the war's end.

The Specifications For This Specialized Aircraft Are:

Primary Function: Psychological Operations Broadcasts

Builder: Lockheed

Power Plant: Four Allison T56-A-15 Turboprop Engines

Thrust: 4,910 shaft horsepower per engine 

Length: 100 ft 6 in

Height: 38 ft 6 in (11.7 meters) Wingspan: 132 ft 7 in (40.4 meters)

Speed: 299 mph

Ceiling: 20,000 ft                                                                                                                                                  

Maximum Takeoff Weight: 155,000 lbs.

Range: 2,100-plus miles

Crew: Four officers (pilot, copilot, navigator, mission control chief/EWO); seven enlisted (flight engineer, loadmaster, five mission crew)

Date Deployed: 1992

Unit Flyaway Cost: More than $70 million

Air Force Mission: Commando Solo conducts psychological operations and civil affairs broadcast missions in the standard AM, FM, HF, TV and military communications bands. Missions are flown at maximum altitudes possible to ensure optimum propagation patterns. The EC-130 flies during either day or night scenarios with equal success, and is air refuelable. A typical mission consists of a single-ship orbit which is offset from the desired target audience. The targets may be either military or civilian personnel.

Secondary missions include command and control communications countermeasures (C3CM) and limited intelligence gathering.

Air Force Features: Highly specialized modifications have been made to the latest version of the EC-130 (Commando Solo). Included in these modifications are enhanced navigation systems, self-protection equipment, and the capability of broadcasting color television on a multitude of worldwide standards throughout the TV VHF/UHF ranges.

Air Force (ANG) Inventory: 6

The EC-130 was originally modified using the mission electronic equipment from the EC-121, known at the time as the Coronet Solo. Soon after the 193rd SOW received its EC-130s, the unit participated in the rescue of US citizens in Operation Urgent Fury, acting as an airborne radio station informing those people on Grenada of the US military action.

Commando Solo was instrumental in the success of coordinated psychological operations in Operation Just Cause, again broadcasting continuously throughout the initial phases of the operation to help end the Noriega regime.

In 1994, Commando Solo was utilized to broadcast radio and television messages to the citizens and leaders of Haiti during Operation Uphold Democracy. The EC-130's deployed early in the operation, highlighting the importance of PSYOP in avoiding military and civilian casualties. President Aristide was featured on the broadcasts which contributed significantly to the orderly transition from military rule to democracy.

The latest proof of the effectiveness of this Pennsylvania Air National Guard Unit can be seen by the response they received in both Bosnia and Kosovo. While on assignment in the Balkans, the government there responded to their television and radio broadcasts by dispatching enemy aircraft to shoot them down. Fortunately the planes were scared off by U.S. Fighters accompanying the "Command Solo" EC-130 aircraft.

As for the future of the 193rd Special Operations Wing, on July 13, 1998, the approximately 1200 members of the 193rd Special Operations Wing learned that congressional budget approval was given for the new EC-130J aircraft. The new aircraft developed by Lockheed will be able to fly higher than the EC-130's now being used, making them better able to avoid groundfire. The new EC-130J is reported to also handle better and have greater range and fuel economy.

The next few years should see continued enhancements to the EC-130 and its worldwide mission.