The US procures agricultural taildragger model-based aircraft for Armed Overwatch program

It took a $3 billion deal.
Loukia Papadopoulos
AT-802U Sky Warden planeL3 Harris
  • The new contract has a cost ceiling of $3 billion.
  • The aircraft will be used in irregular warfare operations.
  • The planes will be tailorable for a variety of mission requirements.

In a rather unexpected move, the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) has chosen L3Harris Technologies and Air Tractor, Inc.’s AT-802U Sky Warden system, which is based on an agricultural taildragger aircraft, for its Armed Overwatch program, according to a press release by L3Harris.

Delivery of up to 75 new planes

The contract is an Indefinite Quantity, Indefinite Delivery one, a type of contract that provides for an undetermined quantity of supplies or services over a fixed period. It includes a cost ceiling of a whopping $3 billion and delivery of up to 75 manned, fixed wing aircraft, with an initial program contract award of $170 million.

The new aircraft will address SOCOM’s need for a deployable, sustainable single-engine fixed-wing, crewed and affordable aircraft system. The aircraft will be used in irregular warfare operations and provide close air support, precision strike, armed intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), strike coordination and forward air controller requirements for use in austere and permissive environments.

“An important part of our Trusted Disruptor strategy is listening closely to combatant commanders’ needs, and responding faster than the evolving threats,” said Christopher E. Kubasik, Chair and Chief Executive Officer, L3Harris. “We want to deliver game-changing, modular solutions to U.S. special operators for their hardest missions, and Sky Warden does just that.”

L3Harris expects to rapidly modify last summer’s Armed Overwatch prototype demonstrator into the production configuration in approximately six months. Production of new, fully modified, Armed Overwatch mission-configured aircraft will begin in 2023. Six new aircraft will be delivered under the low-rate initial production Lot 1 and are scheduled to achieve initial operating capability in fiscal year 2026 and full operating capability in 2029.

Affordable close air support

“Sky Warden will bring powerful and affordable close air support, precision strike, armed ISR, and command and control capabilities directly to special operations forces in the battlefield,” said Sean Stackley, President, Integrated Mission Systems, L3Harris. “We are ready now to begin work on this modern, multi-mission system for the SOCOM Armed Overwatch program.”

SOCOM has said that the new planes will be cost-efficient , able to take off and land in austere fields, fly for long periods of time, and support a variety of modular payloads. They are thus tailorable for a variety of mission requirements to meet U.S. mission needs.

“The Sky Warden design reflects our commitment to America’s national security and the AT-802U will be equipped with everything we’ve learned manufacturing aircraft over the past 46 years,” said Jim Hirsch, President, Air Tractor, Inc. “The L3Harris team is an excellent partner, and our production and engineering staff are ready to immediately deliver this world-class product to our nation’s special forces.”

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