A healthy defense budget for fiscal year 2023 includes $246 million in support of the “Armed Overwatch” program managed by the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM). The funding is meant to acquire smaller, specialized aircraft serving the surveillance needs of special operations forces (SOF) in difficult environments.
Missions that require clandestine actions may be more effectively executed by smaller aircraft uniquely suited to SOCOM’s forces, rather than using high-visibility aircraft such as U.S. Air Force fighter jets (see figure).
Christopher P. Maier, the assistant Secretary of Defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, recently speaking before the Senate Armed Services Committee, explained, “The budget ... supports the ‘Armed Overwatch’ program to ensure our SOF have the required support in remote and austere environments where they operate.”
The funding was requested for nine aircraft for the Armed Overwatch program, to be deployed in remote locations for close air support, precision strike capability, airborne intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance as needed. Maier added, “The investment into the Armed Overwatch program will ensure that this dedicated capability exists, allowing high-end fighter aircraft to orient towards other critical needs.”
SOCOM also is working with the U.S. Navy on acquisition of manned and unmanned undersea vehicles. The budget request includes those additions to facilitate access to, and intelligence gathering in, difficult locations.