US Special Operations Command (SOCOM) has chosen L3Harris in its competition to develop a low-cost aircraft capable of performing both surveillance and strike missions.
The up to $3-billion contract will see the American firm and its partner Air Tractor produce 75 “Sky Warden” aircraft, along with training systems, support equipment, and spares.
Initial production will take place at Air Tractor’s facility in Texas.
Once the planes are manufactured, L3Harris will solely modify them into the Armed Overwatch mission configuration and will integrate weapon systems beginning in 2023.
The modified Sky Warden is expected to achieve initial operating capability in 2026 and full operating capability in 2029.
Armed Overwatch Program
Launched in 2020, the Armed Overwatch program seeks to acquire propeller-driven turboprop aircraft to support commandos conducting irregular warfare in austere locations.
This comes as China and Russia continue to expand their numbers of aircraft and air defense systems.
After demonstrations and evaluations, SOCOM narrowed the competition to three participants: L3 Harris’ AT-802U Sky Warden, Sierra Nevada’s MC-145B Coyote, and Textron Aviation’s AT-6 Wolverine.
With the selection of L3Harris as the winner of the Armed Overwatch competition, its Sky Warden aircraft will replace the command’s existing U-28A Draco intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft.
It will be reconfigured to carry high-powered munitions, including air-to-surface missiles, precision-guided rockets, and .50-caliber guns.
Providing Close-Air Support
L3Harris explained that its Sky Warden aircraft will help address SOCOM’s current need for a “deployable, sustainable” single-engine fixed-wing aircraft system.
It reportedly provides close air support, precision strike, command and control, and armed ISR capabilities crucial in severe operational environments.
“An important part of our Trusted Disruptor strategy is listening closely to combatant commanders’ needs, and responding faster than the evolving threats,” L3Harris Chief Executive Officer Christopher E. Kubasik said in a press release.
“We want to deliver game-changing, modular solutions to US special operators for their hardest missions, and Sky Warden does just that.”