For the first time, an Air Force officer has been nominated to command Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) the go-to maneuver element for the National Command Authorities, President Trump and Secretary Mattis, which includes units such as Delta Force and SEAL Team Six. As an Air Force pilot, Lt. Gen. Scott Howell has a background in rotary wing aviation. Previously, JSOC had been commanded by Generals who came up through the ranks in the Ranger Regiment, Special Forces, and in the case of Admiral McRaven, the Navy SEALs. Howell’s nomination now needs to be confirmed by the Senate.
According to the Fayetteville Observer Howell is a “career helicopter pilot with numerous assignments in rescue and special operations units and experience in Iraq, Kuwait, Bosnia, Haiti, Kosovo, Mozambique, Djibouti and Afghanistan.” Howell also served in the innocuous-sounding Aviation Tactics Evaluation Group (AvTEG), which is also a part of JSOC. In AvTEG he commanded the unit’s Expeditionary Special Operations Wing-Bravo.
According to the scant publicly released information about AvTEG, we are told that they identify capability gaps, coordinate funding and programs, participate in working groups and a bunch of other bland activities. The reality is that AvTEG is the modern incarnation of the unit once known as SEA SPRAY, a unit that provides clandestine aviation assets for JSOC operators should the need arise.
Helicopters for this unit are purchased outside the normal military acquisition process and resemble foreign or civilian aircraft. Over the years the unit, “went on to conduct some of the most sensitive covert missions ever undertaken by the US Army. It supported Signal Intelligence operations, secretly transported foreign leaders, ferried Delta soldiers and worked extensively with other counter-terrorism forces in exercises and rescue operations.”
A previous history of the unit formerly known as SEA SPRAY published by SOFREP reads that:
The unit’s inventory included Cessnas, Beechcraft King Airs, and highly modified Hughes 500MD helicopters. These helicopters were day/night capable with so-called ‘people pods’ for transporting assaulters like on today’s Little Bird helicopters, and specialized silencers on the tail rotors to decrease noise. The 500MD’s also incorporated a Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR) system for scanning the ground for targets or landing sites. That said, my understanding is that Seaspray helicopters do not look military at all but were marked up like civilian aircraft.
If confirmed by the Senate, General Howell will bring a unique and interesting perspective to the table at Joint Special Operations Command, one that comes not from a career in Direct Action raids or Unconventional Warfare, but rather in Special Operations aviation.