US Special Operations Command (SOCOM) has awarded a contract worth up to $3bn to L3 Communications Integrated Systems for procurement of up to 75 Air Tractor AT-802U Sky Warden light attack aircraft, in support of the Armed Overwatch programme.
Initial funding of $170m was released at the time of the award on July 31 for research, development, test and evaluation and procurement purposes. The deal also includes training systems, mission planning systems, support equipment, spares and logistics support, with a period of performance from July 2022 to July 2029, including all options. An initial six new aircraft are to be delivered under Low-Rate Initial Production (LRIP) Lot 1. SOCOM said initial operating capability should be achieved in Fiscal Year 2026, with full operating capability to be achieved in 2029.
L3Harris expects to rapidly modify the existing Armed Overwatch prototype demonstrator into production configuration and provide for customer weapon system testing in approximately six months. Production of new, fully modified, Armed Overwatch mission-configured aircraft will begin in 2023 at L3Harris’ modification centre in Tulsa, Oklahoma, following initial production at Air Tractor’s aircraft manufacturing facility in Olney, Texas.
Armed Overwatch will provide Special Operations Forces with deployable, affordable and sustainable crewed aircraft systems fulfilling close air support, precision strike and armed intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, strike co-ordination and forward air controller requirements, in austere and permissive environments, for use in irregular warfare operations in support of the National Defense Strategy.
In testimony to the House Armed Service Subcommittee on Intelligence and Special Operations on July 21, last year, SOCOM Commander, Gen Richard Clarke said he anticipates there will be four operational squadrons, each equipped with 15 Armed Overwatch aircraft. This would enable one to be deployed at any given time, while the other three would train at home in the US. A fifth squadron of 10-15 aircraft would be a training unit.
There were five competitors for the contract, the other four being the Leidos Bronco II, MAG Aerospace MC-208 Guardian, Sierra Nevada Corporation MC-145B Wily Coyote and Textron Aviation Defense AT-6E Wolverine. Prototypes of each were evaluated by SOCOM between late 2021 and March 2022, primarily at Eglin AFB, Florida.