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US Special Operations Command selects L3Harris’ Sky Warden for Armed Overwatch effort

US Special Operations Command selects L3Harris' Sky Warden for Armed Overwatch effort
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WASHINGTON — US Special Operations Command announced on Monday that it has selected the AT-802U Sky Warden, made by L3Harris Technologies and Air Tractor. Armed Overwatch program.

L3Harris said on Monday that the unspecified delivery, uncertain quantity contract will be worth up to $3 billion. The first program contract award is $170 million.

Air Tractor is an aircraft manufacturer from Olney, Texas, that typically makes agricultural aircraft such as firefighting aircraft and crop dusters.

Initial production of the Sky Warden will take place at Air Tractor’s facility in Olney. L3Harris will then convert these aircraft into the Armed Overwatch mission configuration at the Tulsa, Oklahoma modification center, starting in 2023. The work will also take place at other sites in Greenville, Rockwall and Waco, Texas, and Nashville, Tennessee, L3Harris said.

Air Force Special Operations Command Armed Overwatch program A fleet of up to 75 flexible, fixed-wing aircraft are suitable for deployment in difficult locations, and very little logistical queues are required to keep them operational.

SOCOM plans that as AFSOC’s Armed Overwatch aircraft, the single-engine Sky Warden will be able to provide close air support, precision strike and armed intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions for counterterrorism operations and irregular warfare.

AFSOC commander Lt. Gene. Jim Slife said last year that he hopes the Armed Overwatch drones will be suitable for putting pressure on extremist groups in places like Africa, where airspace is essentially uncontested.

As the Air Force shifts its main focus from fighting terrorist groups and violent extremist organizations in places like the Middle East – and some of the more complex and expensive-to-use fighters and bombers – it has moved to install a series of Armed Overwatch aircraft. .

L3Harris Sky Warden will be used to put pressure on terrorist groups in places like Africa where airspace is largely free.  (L3Harris)

L3Harris Sky Warden will be used to put pressure on terrorist groups in places like Africa where airspace is largely free. (L3Harris)

SOCOM Commander Gen. Richard Clarke said it in a release. “This robust, sustainable platform will operate in environments permitted worldwide and in harsh conditions to protect our ground special operations forces.”

SOCOM said the aircraft will be low cost, capable of landing and taking off in difficult areas, flying for long periods and supporting a variety of modular payloads.

Last year, Slife suggested that Armed Overwatch would allow AFSOC to field the aging and expensive U-28A Draco ISR aircraft – a rare aircraft that requires specialized equipment and training to maintain.

But SOCOM told the Air Force Times on Monday that even after Sky Warden is delivered, the U-28 will still need ISR for operations such as search and rescue and humanitarian aid.

Clarke told lawmakers last year that he envisions four operational squadrons of 15 Armed Overwatch aircraft, one deployed at any given time, while the other three train, recover, and are kept at home. Clarke also said that a fifth squadron of 10 to 15 aircraft will be for training.

L3Harris beat four other rivals – Leidos, MAG Aerospace, Textron Aviation Defense and Sierra Nevada – for the Armed Overwatch contract. These five firms built prototype aircraft that were evaluated at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida in late 2021 and early 2022.

L3Harris said it will move quickly to convert the prototype aircraft into production configuration, allowing SOCOM to begin testing later this year.

Six aircraft will be delivered in the first low-rate first production batch.

Under the contract, L3Harris will also provide training systems, mission planning systems, support equipment, spare parts and logistical support.

SOCOM said Sky Warden is expected to reach initial operational capability in fiscal 2026 and full operational capability in 2029.

Rachel Cohen contributed to this report.

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