Special Forces Want To Equip Aircraft With Loiter Munitions

Credit: U.S. Special Operations Command

U.S. Special Operations Command has issued a call for a new class of Air-launched Loiter Munitions (ALMs) to arm its fixed-wing aircraft fleet.

The Program Executive Office-Fixed Wing and SOFWERX, the command’s rapid prototyping agency, plan to host a series of demonstrations of potential ALMs.

The special notice released by the command on Sept. 22 explains a new capability gap against a “well-resourced peer adversary” that the ALMs could help address.

“Traditional airborne moving target intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) sensors currently employed by [special operations forces] will be inadequate for such a scenario due to deficiencies in survivability, speed, range, or sensor performance,” the notice says.

The notice appears to reference a current special operations fleet that relies on Lockheed Martin MC-130s and L3Harris/AirTractor OA-1Ks to launch guided missiles. In these operations, the aircraft must be able to visually identify the target, then use satellite navigation or a semi-active laser for terminal guidance.

“The dependencies for this employment method will place [special operations forces] operators at an unacceptable risk during engagements in highly contested areas,” the notice says.

By air launching a loitering munition, the same platforms can remain much farther away from a threat. The crews can then use the sensors onboard the loitering munition to visually identify the target downrange.

The command “is looking for ALMs to decrease the engagement time from minutes to seconds, improve targeting solutions, and increase survivability,” the notice says.

Steve Trimble

Steve covers military aviation, missiles and space for the Aviation Week Network, based in Washington DC.