For the past few years, a low-intensity conflict has raged inside the Pentagon over how U.S. special operations forces are going to counter terrorist and extremist organizations in an era of great-power competition against China and Russia.
The U.S. Special Operations Command’s desire for its own small special operations aircraft to support its units is at the heart of the debate. Commandos want to have their own cheap aircraft and not have to depend on fighter jets, such as the F-22 or the F-35, that cost between $30,000 to $70,000 an hour to operate.
SOCOM wants a “multi-role capability that could provide both intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance overhead but also is prepared to fire munitions in support of a team that could be in harm’s way,” Gen. Richard Clarke, SOCOM’s commanding general, told lawmakers at a recent House Armed Services subcommittee hearing.
The Armed Overwatch Program, as the latest effort is known, has faced backlash from the Air Force, which had been pursuing its own light attack aircraft, and from Congress, which wants to ensure it doesn’t end up funding two similar programs.