US Particular Operations Command chooses L3Harris’ Sky Warden for Armed Overwatch effort

WASHINGTON — U.S. Particular Operations Command on Monday introduced it has chosen the AT-802U Sky Warden, made by L3Harris Applied sciences and Air Tractor, for its Armed Overwatch program.

The indefinite supply, indefinite amount contract shall be price as much as $3 billion, L3Harris stated in a launch Monday. The preliminary program contract award is for $170 million.

Air Tractor is an plane producer from Olney, Texas, that usually makes firefighting plane and agricultural planes corresponding to crop dusters.

Preliminary manufacturing of the Sky Warden will happen at Air Tractor’s facility in Olney. L3Harris will then modify these planes into the Armed Overwatch mission configuration at its Tulsa, Oklahoma modification heart, starting in 2023. L3Harris stated work may also happen at its different websites in Greenville, Rockwall and Waco, Texas and Nashville, Tennessee.

Air Power Particular Operations Command’s Armed Overwatch program goals to construct a fleet of as much as 75 versatile, fixed-wing plane appropriate for deployment to austere places, with little logistical tail wanted to maintain them working.

SOCOM is planning for the single-engine Sky Warden, as AFSOC’s Armed Overwatch airplane, to have the ability to present shut air help, precision strike and armed intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions for counterterrorism operations and irregular warfare.

AFSOC commander Lt. Gen. Jim Slife stated final yr he hopes Armed Overwatch plane shall be suited to stress extremist teams in locations like Africa, wherein the airspace is actually uncontested.

The Air Power moved to determine a sequence of Armed Overwatch planes because it shifted its main focus — and a few of its extra advanced and expensive-to-operate fighters and bombers — away from combating terrorist teams and violent extremist organizations in locations just like the Center East.

“Armed Overwatch solutions a important want for U.S. Particular Operations Command to conduct a variety of operations globally in help of the Nationwide Protection Technique,” SOCOM Commander Gen. Richard Clarke stated in a launch. “This rugged, sustainable platform will function in permissive environments and austere circumstances all over the world to safeguard our particular operations forces on the bottom.”

SOCOM stated the airplane could be low price, in a position to take off and land in austere fields, fly for lengthy intervals, and help quite a lot of modular payloads.

Final yr, Slife instructed Armed Overwatch would permit AFSOC to take its ageing and costly U-28A Draco ISR plane — a uncommon plane that requires specialised gear and coaching to take care of — out of the sphere.

However SOCOM stated in a press release to Air Power Occasions on Monday that even after the Sky Warden is delivered, the U-28 will nonetheless be wanted to offer ISR for operations like search and rescue and humanitarian reduction.

Clarke informed lawmakers final yr he envisions 4 operational squadrons of 15 Armed Overwatch planes, with one deployed at any given time whereas the opposite three prepare, recuperate and are maintained at residence. Clarke additionally stated a fifth squadron of 10 to fifteen planes could be for coaching.

L3Harris beat out 4 different rivals — Leidos, MAG Aerospace, Textron Aviation Protection and Sierra Nevada — for the Armed Overwatch contract. These 5 companies produced prototype plane that had been evaluated, primarily at Eglin Air Power Base in Florida, in late 2021 and early 2022.

L3Harris stated it would transfer quick to show its prototype plane into the manufacturing configuration, and permit SOCOM to begin testing later this yr.

Six planes shall be delivered within the first low-rate preliminary manufacturing lot.

Below the contract, L3Harris additionally would offer coaching programs, mission planning programs, help gear, spares and logistical help.

The Sky Warden is anticipated to achieve preliminary working functionality in fiscal 2026, and full working functionality in 2029, SOCOM stated.

Rachel Cohen contributed to this report.

Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter at Protection News. He beforehand reported for, masking the Pentagon, particular operations and air warfare. Earlier than that, he lined U.S. Air Power management, personnel and operations for Air Power Occasions.