Five aircraft prototype contracts awarded for Armed Overwatch

Prototypes of five different aircraft have been ordered for competitive demonstrations under US Special Operations Command’s (USSOCOM’s) Armed Overwatch programme.

USSOCOM’s Directorate of Procurement awarded five fixed-price prototype project other transaction agreements – totalling US$19.19m – for the prototype demonstrations. The contracts were awarded on behalf of the USSOCOM Program Executive Office-Fixed Wing (PEO-FW) and were announced on May 14, when they were published on the US government’s official federal contracting website.

MC-208 Guardian [MAG Aerospace]
Launched by MAG Aerospace in March 2021, the MC-208 Guardian is a militarised variant of the Cessna 208B Grand Caravan. This platform is one of the five prototypes that will be evaluated by US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) as part of the recently awarded Armed Overwatch contracts. MAG Aerospace

The five contractors and the aircraft they are proposing are as follows:

  • Leidos Inc of Reston, Virginia, with the Bronco II.
  • MAG Aerospace of Fairfax, Virginia, with the MC-208 Guardian.
  • Textron Aviation Defense LLC of Wichita, Kansas, with the AT-6E Wolverine.
  • L-3 Communications Integrated Systems LP of Waco, Texas, with the AT-802U Sky Warden.
  • Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) of Sparks, Nevada, with the MC-145B Wily Coyote.

Leidos Bronco II [Bronco II]
A digital rendering of a Bronco II multi-mission aircraft in flight. Note the platform is wearing USAF markings on its twin-boom tail. The Bronco II was unveiled by Leidos, alongside Paramount Group USA and Vertex Aerospace, in May 2020. Bronco II

The Bronco II is an Americanized version of South Africa-based Paramount Group’s Advanced High Performance Reconnaissance Light Aircraft (AHRLAC), which was previously offered to USSOCOM in May 2020 in partnership with Leidos and Vertex Aerospace. The MC-208 Guardian is an armed, militarised variant of the Cessna 208B Grand Caravan and was launched by MAG Aerospace in March this year.

The US Air Force (USAF) has already taken delivery of an AT-6E Wolverine, which the service received earlier this year as part of the Continued Light Aircraft Experiment. L3Harris (formerly known as L-3 Communications) launched the AT-802U Sky Warden on May 6, 2021. This militarised multi-mission aircraft is based on Air Tractor’s family of AT-802 agricultural/aerial firefighting aircraft. SNC has yet to make any announcements regarding the MC-145B Wily Coyote. However, the platform will obviously be based on the Polish-made PZL Mielec M28 Skytruck, which is already in operational service with USSOCOM as the C-145A Combat Coyote.

AT-802U Sky Warden [L3Harris]
An artist's impression of the new AT-802U Sky Warden multi-mission ISR aircraft. Air Tractor, the original equipment manufacturer, has teamed up with L3Harris Technologies to produce the aircraft. L3Harris

Contract awardees will be required to demonstrate prototype systems, which will be evaluated against well-defined criteria for the Armed Overwatch programme. If the prototype project is deemed successfully completed by the government, the contractor may be requested to provide a production proposal for a follow-on production award.

This will be awarded without additional competition and the contract will have a five-year baseline ordering period. The government estimates there will be a total purchase of 75 aircraft with associated support over the life of the acquisition.

AT-6E Wolverine [Textron Aviation]
An AT-6E Wolverine light attack aircraft demonstrates its ability to operate in austere environments. The USAF accepted delivery of a single example earlier this year for use in the Continued Light Aircraft Experiment. Textron Aviation

Work under the prototype project will be performed primarily at the awardee’s locations, as well as at Eglin Air Force Base (AFB) in Florida. It is expected that this initial contract will be completed by March 2022. The awards are the result of a competitive effort and are being financed with Fiscal Year 2021 (FY21) Research, Development, Test and Evaluation funds.

The Armed Overwatch programme intends to provide Special Operations Forces (SOF) with a deployable, affordable and sustainable manned aircraft system. The platform must be capable of fulfilling close air support (CAS); armed intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR); strike co-ordination and reconnaissance (SCAR); and forward air controller (airborne) requirements in austere and permissive environments for Countering-Violent Extremist Organisation (C-VEO) missions.

C-145A Combat Coyote [USAF/Tech Sgt Samuel King Jr]
While Sierra Nevada Corporation has yet to announce any details relating to the MC-145B Wily Coyote, it is expected to be a modified variant of the PZL Mielec C-145A Combat Coyote, which is already operational with USSOCOM (pictured). Here, aircrew from the 919th Special Operations Wing (SOW) prepare a C-145A for mission from Duke Field, Florida, on February 25, 2016. USAF/Tech Sgt Samuel King Jr