Special Reconnaissance – AF Special Warfare
Special Reconnaissance Crest

Special Reconnaissance

What is Special Reconnaissance?

Special Reconnaissance (SR) focuses on airpower-minded reconnaissance and surveillance. Aligned under AFSOC’s access teams (along with PJ & CCT) SR airmen utilize advanced recon techniques, to include weather forecasting and cyber collecting for air and ground assets. These operators specialize in ground-based Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) meshed with Air, Space and Cyber capabilities.

Formerly branded as Special Operations Weather Team (SOWT), the SR career field has recently undergone a major restructuring. While short term weather forecasting will remain in the SR’s skillset, it will no longer dominate SR’s training and mission focus. Skills include:

  • Weather forecasting
  • Intelligence, Surveillance & Reconnaissance (ISR) gathering
  • Static Line and Military Freefall Insertion (HALO & HAHO)
  • Underwater infil and exfil (SCUBA)
  • Helicopter land and water insertion & exfil

Special Reconnaissance are among the most highly trained personnel in the U.S. military. They receive training in surveillance and reconnaissance, multi-domain electronic warfare (EW), long-range precision engagement and target interdiction, small unmanned aircraft systems, preparation of the environment, personnel recovery, and advanced special tactics skills.

Mission Statement

Special Reconnaissance Airmen are Special Tactics operators with unique training to conduct multi-domain reconnaissance and surveillance across the spectrum of conflict with focus on lethal and non-lethal air to ground integration of airpower. They deploy rapidly and undetected by any means, anytime, and anywhere to systematically – and with impunity – obtain, transmit, exploit, and action time-sensitive information.  USAF Special Reconnaissance employ as elements of Special Tactics teams to prepare the environment, ensure global battlespace awareness, provide global access, and effect air, space, cyberspace, and information superiority for the successful execution of Joint Force objectives.

Training Pipeline

The Special Reconnaissance Apprentice course will see, trainees gain experience in reconnaissance, surveillance, long-range precision engagement and target interdiction, and combat enabling tasks. This will include collecting meteorological and environmental data- a holdover requirement from the SOWT career field, yet significantly reduced in scope. Other skills will include demolition, communication and signalling, human intelligence gathering, operational preparation of the environment and tactical cyber applications.

Duty Locations

Active Duty

  • Pope AFB, (Fayetteville) NC (21st Special Tactics Squadron)
  • Joint Base Lewis-McChord, (Tacoma) WA (22nd Special Tactics Squadron)
  • Hurlburt Field, (Ft. Walton Beach) FL (23rd Special Tactics Squadron)
  • Pope AFB, (Fayetteville) NC (724th Special Tactics Squadron)
  • Cannon AFB, (Clovis) NM (26th Special Tactics Squadron)
  • Kadena Air Base, (Okinawa), Japan (320th Special Tactics Squadron)
  • Mildenhall AB, England (321st Special Tactics Squadron)

Air National Guard

  • Louisville Intl Airport KY (123rd Special Tactics Squadron)
  • Portland Intl Airport OR (125th Special Tactics Squadron)

Check out the Active Duty vs Reserve Component page for more in-depth information on the different types of Squadrons.

Official Air Force Description and Responsibilities

Refer to the 30 Apr 2019 Air Force Enlisted Classification Guide (page 100)

Special Reconnaissance and SOWT History

The U.S. Army Weather Service originated in 1917 to provide the American Expeditionary Forces with “all the meteorological information needed; and to undertake special investigations in military meteorology and related problems”. They first took part in World War I combat operations in France in 1918. 

During World War II, specially trained weather observers, sometimes referred to as guerrilla weathermen, infiltrated behind enemy lines to provide weather intelligence in support of air strikes, airlifts and airdrops. In 1947 the Weather Service transferred to the new Air Force with the provision to continue providing meteorological services to the Army. During the Vietnam War, special warfare or commando weathermen provided forward observations and established weather networks in Cambodia and Laos. In every conflict since Vietnam, special operations weathermen were with initial entry forces leading the way, undertaking the most dangerous missions behind enemy lines, conducting austere weather operations, and taking observations critical to the success of follow-on forces. 

In 2008, the Air Force approved the establishment of the Air Force Specialty Code for Special Operations Weather. In 2019, the Air Force approved the career field change to Special Reconnaissance.

For a look into the origins of battlefield weathermen during WWII checkout Bryan Carnes’ history paper: Dawn of SOWT- OSS Weathermen in the Balkans

Additionally you can check out the transformation of Air Force Weather Technicians from the enlisted classification directory (career field descriptors) from 1960 through 2017

Beginning in 2016, Headquarters Air Force and Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) recognized the need to look critically at the entire formation. Recognition of the Air Force’s challenges in an era of great power competition drove the evolution of Special Tactics teams.

On April 30, 2019, SOWT transitioned to Special Reconnaissance, expanding the capabilities and lethality of Air Force Special Tactics.  SR will continue to maintain their application of lethal and non-lethal air-to-ground integration of airpower.  Additionally, they will focus their primary skillset on reconnaissance – long cultivated within their community – into a multi-domain, tactical capability able to provide battlespace awareness, and generate effects of strategic and operational significance.

If you are looking for more info on Special Reconnaissance or have more questions, look around and create a post the AFSPECWAR Forums community.