“Commando Solo, music off.” The EC-130J used for PSYOPS retires.
The EC-130J is a particular version of the EC-130 aircraft flying with the Pennsylvania Air National Guard and used for PSYchological OPerationS (PSYOPS). It’s the only flying military radio and TV broadcast platform in the U.S. military, and is capable of broadcasting TV and radio messages on all bands.
The (then) 193rd Tactical Electronics Warfare Group started operating an “airborne information operations platform” in 1968, when the unit received the EC-121S Coronet Solo. In the late 1970s, the EC-121 were replaced by the EC-130E Volant Solo before finally being replaced by the current aircraft in 2003.
Many modifications were made to the basic C-130J to create the EC-130J. According to the U.S. Air Force Fact Sheet, the modifications included enhanced navigation systems and self-protection equipment. But “the majority of the engineering investment went into the integration of the special mission equipment capable of up to 14 simultaneous broadcasts with the same or independent messages on each channel. Keeping pace with information-technology systems, message playback is accomplished using media stored digitally, e.g. hard drives, but the aircraft is still capable of accepting legacy media formats (CD/DVD etc.). In addition to pre-recorded messages, the EC-130J has the capability to conduct live broadcasts. In the last two deployments, the live broadcast option has gained considerable popularity. In its current configuration, the EC-130J is capable of a broad-range of tactics including; Information Operations (Influence) and Joint Electromagnetic Spectrum Operations, i.e. electronic attack.”
In a few words the role of the aircraft is to operate close to a combat zone or crisis area and broadcast various kinds of messages, via radio and TV, to influence listeners, also overriding broadcast stations on the ground.
Throughout its history, the EC-130J was instrumental in the success of coordinated military information support operations, earning the 193rd Special Operations Wing the moniker of “the most deployed unit in the Air National Guard.”
In fact, since it was delivered, the aircraft has conducted operations (and PSYOPS) during Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operations Odyssey Dawn/Unified Protector in Libya, Operation Inherent Resolve, Operation Resolute Support/Freedom’s Sentinel, Operation Secure Tomorrow and Operation Unified Response in Haiti.
Our readers will probably remember the EC-130J Commando Solo (00-1934/STEEL74) of the 193 SOS, operating out of Sigonella, in Italy, which became particularly famous in 2011, during the Libya Air War: the aircraft broadcast messages both English and Arab language inviting sailors and naval officers of a Libyan ship to leave the vessel and return to their families, that were often intercepted by radio hams from all around the world and published almost everywhere, from Audioboo to YouTube.
But the career of the Commando Solo has eventually come to an end: airmen from the 193rd Special Operations Wing have transmitted their final broadcast on Sept. 17, 2022, to spectators at the Community Days Air Show at Lancaster Airport, Lititz, Pa., bringing to close a 54-year chapter in unit history.
US Air Force 193rd Special Operations Wing airmen, who operate EC-130J Commando Solo, the only flying radio and TV broadcast platform in US military, transmitted final broadcast on Sep. 17, closing a 54-year chapter in unit history. pic.twitter.com/ubp9soh6fM
— Ryan Chan 陳家翹 (@ryankakiuchan) September 18, 2022
In the transmission, the wing thanked the local community for their support over the past 54 years before broadcasting the Santo and Johnny song, “Sleepwalk.” The transmission ended with the phrase, “Commando Solo, music off” [music is a popular codeword in the Electronic Warfare community, meaning “jamming”].
“The EC-130J Commando Solo mission has helped keep this Air National Guard unit’s aircraft and its Airmen at the tip of spear for nearly every major U.S. military operation since the Vietnam War”, says the ANG in a public release. “Before bombs dropped or troops deployed in the Global War on Terror following the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, this specially modified aircraft was already over the skies of Afghanistan broadcasting to America’s enemies that the U.S. military was bringing the fight to them.”
“Any world event or crisis that our military has responded to in recent history, our 193rd Airmen – and Commando Solo – were likely key components in that response,” said Col. Eric McKissick, 193rd SOW vice commander. “As we prepare to open a new chapter in our history, we thank those who have enabled us to be among the very best wings in the Air National Guard.”
The ability of the aircraft to broadcast messages to adversaries but also vital information to people in the need, was the key of success of the Commando Solo. “This capability has been an essential tool in our nation’s inventory, from the battlefields to assisting hurricane and earthquake-ravaged nations,” Lt. Col. Michael Hackman, 193rd Special Operations Squadron commander said.
The 193rd SOW had three EC-130J Commando Solo in service. While the fate of the airframe is unknown, the unit, affiliated with the Air Force Special Operations Command, will continue operating with (four) EC-130SJ Super J aircraft, that can perform the psychological warfare role, but also other special ops missions, such as clandestine, low-visibility, low-level resupply and infiltration/exfiltration missions for Special Operations Forces by airdrop or airland. In fact, the Super J aircraft is an upgraded “slick” aircraft with larger generators, air refueling capability and a Crisis Support Operations station installed on the flight deck.