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USSOCOM chooses Sky Warden for Armed Overwatch

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U.S. Special Operations Command stated Monday it will use the AT-802U Sky Warden for its Armed Overwatch program.

L3Harris announced Monday a $3 billion IDIQ deal. Initial program contract is $170 million. Air Tractor builds firefighting and agricultural planes in Olney, Texas.

Sky Warden production begins in Olney. L3Harris will convert the planes to Armed Overwatch mission configuration in 2023. L3Harris will also work in Greenville, Rockwall, Waco, and Nashville.

Armed Overwatch plans to create a fleet of up to 75 versatile, fixed-wing aircraft for deployment in inhospitable regions with little logistical support.

SOCOM plans for AFSOC’s single-engine Sky Warden to offer close air support, precision strike, and armed intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance for counterterrorism and irregular warfare.

AFSOC commander Lt. Gen. Jim Slife expects Armed Overwatch aircraft can pressure extremist organizations in uncontested airspace like Africa.

The Air Force established a succession of Armed Overwatch planes as it turned its primary focus — and some of its more complex and expensive-to-operate fighters and bombers — away from attacking terrorist groups in the Middle East.

SOCOM stated the jet would be low-cost, able to take off and land in inhospitable grounds, fly long distances, and accommodate modular payloads.

Last year, Slife proposed Armed Overwatch would allow AFSOC to pull its outdated and expensive U-28A Draco ISR aircraft off the field.

SOCOM said Monday that even when the Sky Warden is delivered, the U-28 will still be needed for SAR and humanitarian relief.

Clarke told legislators last year he envisioned four squadrons of 15 Armed Overwatch planes, with one deployed while the others train, recover, and are maintained at home. A fifth squadron of 10 to 15 planes will be for training, Clarke said.

Leidos, MAG Aerospace, Textron Aviation Defense, and Sierra Nevada were L3Harris’s competitors for Armed Overwatch. In late 2021 and early 2022, these five manufacturers evaluated prototype aircraft at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida.

L3Harris said it will quickly develop its prototype into a manufacturing version so SOCOM can start testing this year. First-low-rate initial production will deliver six planes.

L3Harris would also include training systems, mission planning systems, spares, and logistical support. SOCOM expects Sky Warden to reach first operating capability in 2026 and full capability in 2029.

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