A plane whose mission was to defeat the enemy without firing a single shot

Farewell to the EC-130J Commando Solo III, the plane of the USAF for psychological operations

Last Saturday, September 17, one of the most unknown specialized military aircraft of all those in the US made its last flight.

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That day, the 193rd Special Operations Wing of the United States Air Force (USAF), a unit attached to the Pennsylvania Air National Guard, made its last broadcast flight with its Lockheed EC-130J Comando Solo III, a plane specialized in psychological operations (PsyOps), that is, it is dedicated to broadcasting messages whose purpose is to persuade the enemy.

An EC-130J Commando Solo III photographed from a KC-135T air tanker in October 2020. This aircraft is easy to recognize by the emissions antennas on its drift and under the wings, and by the large tanks it carries near the edge of the wings, probably with electronic equipment (Photo: USAF).

The aforementioned unit of the USAF was created in 1967, the same year as the creation of the 4th Psychological Operations Group (4th POG) of the US Army Special Forces. Both units have been historically linked despite belonging to different branches of the US Armed Forces. Basically, the 4th POG elaborated the messages issued by the planes of the 193rd Wing, initially equipped with five Lockheed EC-121S Coronet Solo, a psychological warfare version of the Lockheed L-1049 Super Constellation. Two of these aircraft were deployed to Thailand in 1970, to broadcast in Cambodia.

Operators of the emission systems of an EC-130J Commando Solo III during a mission in support of Operation Inherent Resolve in the Middle East, in September 2017 (Photo: USAF).

In March 1979, the 193rd Wing received its first Lockheed EC-130E Volant Solo, a version of the famous C-130 Hercules specially modified to carry out psychological warfare missions. Its first deployment in combat was in 1983 on the island of Grenada, during Operation Urgent Fury, directing broadcasts to the civilian population of the island with information about that operation. The unit was redeployed to Panama in 1989, during Operation Just Cause, and to Saudi Arabia in 1990, following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Volant Solos (renamed Command Solos in 1990) not only had the ability to carry out television and radio broadcasts to spread messages, but they could also gather intelligence and jam enemy broadcasts. .

One of the systems operators of an EC-130J Commando Solo III during a mission in the Middle East in 2017. These aircraft usually carry out their missions at night to make it difficult to detect them in hostile territories (Photo: USAF).

In 1992, the 193rd Wing's EC-130E Commando Solos were upgraded to the Commando Solo II version. Two years later, in 1994, the unit was deployed to Haiti in Operation Uphold Democracy, contributing with its messages to the fall of the military dictatorship established through a coup in 1991 and facilitating the transition to democracy in the country. The unit was deployed in 1997 in Bosnia-Herzegovina, in support of the United stabilization mission in the former Yugoslavia, and in 1998 in Iraq, to persuade the regime of Saddam Hussein to comply with UN resolutions. In 2001, Commando Solo IIs were deployed to Afghanistan at the start of the War on Terror, during which they also redeployed again to Iraq in 2003.

A photo that allows you to observe the antennas of an EC-130J Commando Solo III in its drift and in the tail (Photo: USAF).

In 2004 the EC-130Es were replaced by EC-130J Commando Solo III, the psychological warfare version of the C-130J Super Hercules. Significantly, despite their 18 years of service (not a long time compared to other aircraft), the withdrawal of the EC-130J comes a year after the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, and without Let there be a substitute in sight. Everything seems to indicate that these airborne psychological operations are coming to an end, perhaps because they prefer to opt for other solutions such as satellite broadcasts and the Internet. Currently, the 193rd Wing had three EC-130Js in service. The fate of these aircraft has not been reported.

You can see here the final flight of the EC-130J. The video shows some of the emission systems inside the plane, which used to fly with a crew of between six and ten people:


Main photo: USAF. An image of the last flight of the EC-130J Commando Solo III.

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