Light Attack Aircraft to Support Special Operations

light attack aircraft

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The US military has been interested in light attack capabilities for special forces. The Air Force is about to begin testing a number of light attack aircraft as part of an experimental assessment commonly known as OA-X.  At the same time, it appears that U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) has been actively pushing the service for a project of its own, called Light Attack Support for Special Operations, or LASSO.

The LASSO plan recently announced that both light attack aircraft and associated technology will be examined specifically for special operations forces.

The first step would be simply to gather information on “emerging light attack platforms” and “platform-agnostic” systems, which is to say equipment that wouldn’t require any specific plane to accommodate it. SOCOM and its service components have long been interested in expanding their organic light attack capabilities, which presently including armed drones, fixed wing gunships, and specialized helicopters.

According to, LASSO could potentially include readily reconfigurable designs with modular bays to accept different sensors or simply aircraft able to carry any of a number of multi-purpose pods able to carry day- and night vision cameras, radars, data links, and more.

Meanwhile, the Air Force began flight testing its own design, known as AgilePod. Earlier in July 2017, it appeared that special operations forces had employed a contractor-flown modular surveillance aircraft during a training exercise, as well.

The Air Force and SOCOM have been developing a number of small precision guided munitions, such as the Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System (APKWS) II laser-guided rocket, for both manned and unmanned aircraft. SOCOM has already fielded a common launch tube that can fire a number of missiles and stand-off glide munitions, including the popular AGM-176 Griffin and upcoming GBU-69/B Small Glide Munition (SGM), for various platforms. If successful, it seems likely that the LASSO project could one day be involved in more exotic weapons, such as lasers and other directed energy beams, as well.

While any special operations light attack fleet would undoubtedly be smaller than one within the U.S. Air Force proper, it seems hard to imagine that LASSO won’t be a competitor to the nebulous OA-X experiment at least to some degree. As of yet, the Air Force has yet to articulate any real goals or objectives for the test project.