Leidos has announced that it will lead a team effort to offer the Bronco II light attack/multi-mission aircraft for the US Special Operations Command (SOCOM) Armed Overwatch prototype programme.
The US-based science and technology company announced that it had entered a teaming agreement with Paramount Group USA and Vertex Aerospace to offer the platform to SOCOM. In this partnership, Leidos will act as the prime contractor, with the other two companies being primary teammates.
Gerry Fasano, president of Leidos Defense Group, said: “[The company] has a long history as a premier provider of airborne solutions… The Bronco II demonstrates our commitment to providing the best-of-breed in technology, as well as our agility in meeting the needs of our country’s national security missions. This offering will leverage each company’s expertise to deliver cost-effective innovations for the warfighter.”
The Bronco II was designed by South African-based Paramount Group in 2009. Originally known as the Advanced High Performance Reconnaissance Light Aircraft (AHRLAC), the platform was rebranded as the Bronco II in 2018, when the company offered the type in the US Air Force’s light attack aircraft campaign. Its name pays homage to the North American-Rockwell OV-10 Bronco – a light attack/reconnaissance aircraft of a similar design which saw extensive US combat service during the Vietnam War.
The Bronco II employs a light twin boom tail and high forward-swept wing design, with a stadium seated tandem cockpit configuration. It features a retractable trailing link tricycle landing gear and is powered by a single Pratt & Whitney PT6A-66B turboprop in a pusher propeller setup.
In terms of armament, the platform has six under wing hardpoints with a load capacity of up to 620lbs (281kg) and an option for two on its belly. It can be equipped with a range of weapon systems, comprising unguided/guided rockets and precision munitions. The aircraft has 19 sensor mounting points located around the platform to provide a 360° area of coverage.
A unique application of the Bronco II is its reconfigurable conformal mission bay, located in the aircraft’s belly. This module provides increase mission flexibility as it allows for rapid system changes, updates and integration through an open systems architecture design which separates mission systems from flight control management software. The conformal mission bays are interchangeable, enabling the Bronco II to perform different tasks, as required by the operator, with only quick and minor changes being made to the platform’s setup. According to Paramount Group, it can be equipped with an electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) system, an electronic intelligence (ELINT) or signals intelligence (SIGINT) module or it can be outfitted to carry medical supplies, fuel drums and resupply kits, which can be deployed into the combat zone via an airdrop. The company adds that this capability can “reconfigure the mission while remotely deployed in less than two hours.”
In terms of deployablility, a single Bronco II can be dismantled and transported in a 40ft (12m) shipping container. Considering the USAF’s transport aircraft fleet, a C-130J Super Hercules can carry one of these containers, whereas a C-17A Globemaster III can carry two.
The platform has a maximum speed of 272kts (313mph or 503km/h), a stall speed of 62kts (71mph or 114km/h) – which allows for slower and quieter flying over combat zones for longer periods of time. Using its internal fuel load, the aircraft has a total range of 1,496 miles (2,407km), but with external tanks this is increased to 2,301 miles (3,704km). The Bronco II also boasts an endurance or more than six and half hours.
SOCOM announced earlier this year that it hopes to buy a total of 75 light attack aircraft and plans to begin a flight demonstration as part of its Armed Overwatch programme this November. If the command elects to continue with the programme, one company will be awarded a production contract for the aircraft to be delivered over a five- to seven-year period. These aircraft will replace SOCOM’s extensively used U-28 Draco tactical airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft fleet – which entered service in 2006.
According to SOCOM, “the Armed Overwatch programme will provide special operations forces deployable, affordable and sustainable single-engined fixed-wing manned aircraft systems fulfilling close air support, armed intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, strike coordination and reconnaissance, and forward air controller requirements in austere and permissive environments for the countering-violent extremist organisation missions.”
It will not be an easy contract to win for the Bronco II – which has yet to be purchased by any military air arm – as it comes up against combat proven competitors. The platform will likely be competing against Embraer Defense & Security/Sierra Nevada Corporation’s A-29 Super Tucano and Textron Aviation’s AT-6B/C Wolverine, which have both been ordered by the USAF and other international air arms for light attack/counterterrorism duties. Textron Aviation’s Scorpion, Aero Vodochody/Israeli Aerospace Industries’ F/A-259 Striker – a revamped version of the L-159 Advanced Light Combat Aircraft (ALCA) – and Air Tractor/L3 Technologies’ AT-802L Longsword could all also be very much in contention for this key upcoming US contract.