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SOF Airmen stay sharp at Melrose Air Force Range

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Whitney Amstutz
  • 27th Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
The 27th Special Operations Wing is home to some of the service’s most elite Special Forces warriors. From Special Tactics Airmen of the 26th Special Tactics Squadron to gunship, helicopter and Remotely Piloted Aircraft pilots, being a hub for high-octane individuals comes with a unique responsibility – ensuring the skills that make them a force to be reckoned with do not diminish.

Melrose Air Force Range, or MAFR, a 70,000-acre Air Force primary training range operated under the authority of the Cannon Air Force Base wing commander, is integral to making sure Special Operations Forces attached to United States Special Operations Command stay lethal and relevant to today’s fight.

“MAFR is transitioning from a traditional air to ground bombing range to a SOF-specific, integrated air and ground training facility,” said Steve Coffin, 27th Special Operations Air Operations Squadron Range Management Office chief and MAFR manager. “MAFR supports air and ground training for all USSOCOM component commands, conventional Air Forces, and other Department of Defense and coalition forces. MAFR provides a realistic environment for SOF to practice integrated, complex combat scenarios to produce highly-trained, confident air and ground forces.”

Originally leased and ultimately purchased by the Air Force, MAFR has roots dating back to the Korean War era.

“With the advent of the Korean War, Cannon was reactivated after a short period of inactive status and transferred to Tactical Air Command in 1951,” Coffin said. “Fighters and bombers from that era needed training space for strafing and bombing practice, and in 1952 the original 7,771-acre bombing range was established. Subsequent expansion of the Cannon mission and the increasing capabilities of more sophisticated fighter and bomber aircraft required more training space to ensure a quality training environment that provided appropriate safety margins. Over the ensuing 55 years the range grew from 7,771 acres to 60,010 acres, and then to 70, 000 acres with the New Mexico land gift of 2011.”

Now with more than 70,000 acres of prime training real estate at their disposal, Air Commandos at Cannon are able to prepare for a multitude of scenarios they may encounter during real world operations.

“MAFR provides a readily accessible venue for 27th SOW organizations and visiting SOF to practice almost all training requirements,” Coffin said, “from daily unilateral events to complex air and ground multilateral exercises.”

MAFR also facilitates joint service operations, allowing Air Commandos to work hand-in-hand with their sister-service counterparts and become more familiar with what it means to be unified both in force and communication on the field of battle.

“USSOCOM is a unified combatant command,” Coffin said. “Components rely on service-provided training ranges to accomplish the SOCOM mission. MAFR is the first Air Force training range to be operated directly by a USSOCOM component and as such, provides a training range specifically configured and scheduled for SOF air and ground personnel. MAFR routinely brings together the same forces in training that would meet in deployed locations worldwide. This close relationship between joint forces ensures a thorough working knowledge of each other’s skill set and ensures greater success on the battlefield.”

Easily demonstrable through the readiness of the SOF service members who frequent the range, it is an invaluable asset to Air Force Special Operations Command, USSOCOM and the U.S. military’s ability to fight for freedom both at home and abroad.

“The ability to practice complex integrated, multi-dimensional events in our backyard would be lost without MAFR and that training would occur less frequently resulting in a lessened state of readiness,” Coffin said. “Finally, the constant drive to improve tactics, techniques and procedures would have to be satisfied elsewhere and again, would ultimately take place less frequently than we can practice locally.”

To meet the challenge of ever-changing tactics and technologies while preserving the synchronicity required on today’s complex battlefield, the 27th SOW gained approval to reintroduce certain live munitions in the historic target areas of the range. The ability to employ live weapons in a larger area ensures that SOF-specific targeting situations, including a three-tiered moving target capability that replicates battlefield challenges, are available to a wide variety of users.

The new configuration will also satisfy ground force requirements for simultaneous capabilities such as sniper fire, mounted maneuver live fire, airborne vehicle interdiction, and Type I and II close air support.

“MAFR has matured over the last five years in response to changing user requirements,” Coffin said. “The level of sophistication in day-to-day skills training for air and ground forces has risen steadily for a few years now. We now routinely replicate multifaceted and integrated air and ground operations from ISR [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] and strike to direct action. What is exciting is that we provide high-end, tailored training on some aspect of the core AFSOC mission set just about every week of the year.”

According to Coffin, MAFR accumulates approximately 3,500 user training days each calendar year and supports more than 2,000 sorties. As the families of Air Commandos send their loved ones to deployed locations across the globe, they can rest assured no training scenario went unexplored and no avenue of improvement went ignored in the effort to bring every Airman safely home.