TAMPA — Business may be slow in many parts of the Tampa Bay area, but it's booming at MacDill Air Force Base, home of U.S. Special Operations Command. Charged with fighting the global war on terrorism, SOCom's budget topped $8-billion this year. Nearly one-third is spent on new equipment, creating business for thousands of private contractors.
On Wednesday, SOCom showed reporters a few of its latest purchases, specially tailored for Special Forces operations. There was a
C-130 cargo plane, tricked out to transmit radio, shortwave and TV signals, In 2005, it was used to alert Iraqi citizens about where and when to vote. Estimated cost of the aircraft, three of which are in service, is about $90-million each.
The Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicle, or MRAP, costs about $1-million and looks like a Humvee on steroids. Equipped to protect troops from IEDs (improvised explosive devices), about 5,000 are in use, with 10,000 more on order. A photo bore a message from a grateful passenger: "This truck saved my life."
Special Forces, with the Navy, helped design a 36-foot inflatable boat that can be dropped from a C-130 and handle 10-foot seas. The cost of each boat is about $500,000. Aluminum-hulled river crafts with jet-propulsion engines that reach 40 knots go for $5-million apiece.
The trophy Wednesday was SOCom's new Osprey aircraft. With tilt-rotors that let it fly in airplane mode but take off and land like a helicopter, the CV-22 is expected to be deployed by SOCom next year. Cost: about $90-million each.
Capt. Dennis Woodlief, who has been training on the Osprey at Hurlburt Field in the Panhandle, said designers have corrected flaws that caused crashes during early testing, including one that killed 19 Marines. "The Osprey gets us further, faster, higher," he said. "Other pilots say they'd take their kids on it."
Kris Hundley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2996.