In its version of the Fiscal Year 2021 (FY21) Defense Authorization Act released last week, the Senate Armed Services Committee called into question the need for a new SOF aircraft and the Command’s strategy for rapid acquisition.

According to Sections 175 and 176 of the Bill Report language:

Prohibition on purchase of armed overwatch aircraft (sec. 175)
The committee recommends a provision that would prohibit the purchase of aircraft for the Air Force Special Operations Command used for the purpose of “armed overwatch” until such time as the Chief of Staff of the Air Force certifies to the congressional defense committees that general purpose forces of the Air Force have neither the skill nor the capacity to provide
close air support and armed overwatch to U.S. forces deployed operationally.

Special Operations armed overwatch (sec. 176)
The committee recommends a provision that would prohibit the acquisition of armed overwatch aircraft for the United States Special Operations Command (SOCOM) in fiscal year 2021. The provision would require the Secretary of Defense, in coordination with the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict and the Commander, SOCOM, to conduct, not later than July 1, 2021, an analysis to define the special operations-peculiar requirements for armed overwatch aircraft and determine whether acquisition of a new special operations-peculiar platform is the most effective means of fulfilling such requirements. The committee is concerned that the acquisition strategy for an armed overwatch aircraft for SOCOM lacks a validated requirement and an appropriate analysis of the cost-effectiveness of acquiring a new special operations-peculiar platform. Furthermore, the committee is concerned that the rapid acquisition timeline being pursued by SOCOM does not allow for adequate consideration of: the cost of operating and sustaining the aircraft; the potential negative impacts on an already stressed community of pilots, aircrews, and maintainers; and how such a costly addition fits into SOCOM’s medium-to-long-term airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability roadmap.

As DSJ reported as a key takeaway in our May report from the virtual Special Operations Forces Industry Conference (v-SOFIC), “USSOCOM’s ambition Armed Overwatch Program to solicit, demonstrate (November), assess, and make a decision on the acquisition of up to 75 light attack aircraft, all within the space of a calendar year, appears a priority, notwithstanding the USAF’s scuttling of its Light Attack Aircraft (LAA) program, USSCOM budget challenges, and the COVID-19 pandemic.

DSJ noted in that context that IoMax (with its Archangel), L3/Air Tractor (with their AT-802L Longsword, pictured above), Leidos/Paramount/Vertex (with their Bronco II), Sierra Nevada/Embraer (with their A-29 Super Tucano), and Textron (with its AT-6E Wolverine) have indicated that they will be be offering aircraft for Armed Overwatch assessment. It should be exciting to watch.

On the House authorization side, the picture for Armed Overwatch also appears bleak. The House Armed Service Committee’s Chairman’s Mark removes $80 million of the $101 million requested for FY21 program execution..