Accession Number:



Rethinking Special Operations Armed Overwatch

Descriptive Note:

[Technical Report, Monograph]

Corporate Author:

US Army School for Advanced Military Studies

Personal Author(s):

Report Date:


Pagination or Media Count:



The 2017 ambush of four US special operations soldiers in Niger prompted United States Special Operations Command USSOCOM to undertake an armed overwatch program to provide a dedicated aircraft to support special operations forces SOF across austere environments. Despite Department of Defense DoD support, Congress prohibited funding a new aircraft in the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act NDAA and mandated more analysis regarding armed overwatch roles and responsibilities, doctrinal changes, and relevance to the future threat environment. Armed overwatch is not a doctrinally defined term. USSOCOM has suggested four existing doctrinal characteristics represent its cumulative character close air support CAS, armed intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance ISR, precision strike, and strike coordination and reconnaissance SCAR. Instead of clarity, however, the fusion of these doctrinal missions creates friction. This is paradoxical for a glaring reason the essence of armed overwatch, protecting ground troops from the air, is not a new military phenomenon. Historically, the concept of armed overwatch has deep roots in US military aviation, especially among congressionally mandated special operations activities such as special reconnaissance SR, direct action, and counterinsurgency COIN. Mindful of the past, armed overwatch must determine whether to acknowledge challenges of the future threat environment. An era of great power competition viewed through the lens of grey zone warfare provides an analytical approach for armed overwatch below the threshold of large-scale combat operations. Alternatively, the rapid emergence of technological trends characterizes an evolution in warfare that armed overwatch must consider both doctrinally and materially to remain relevant in non-contested environments. The term armed overwatch is presently used interchangeably in various contexts a program, an aircraft, and a mission.

Subject Categories:

  • Military Forces and Organizations
  • Military Operations, Strategy and Tactics

Distribution Statement:

[A, Approved For Public Release]