The US Special Operations Command (SOCOM) has selected the L3Harris Technologies AT-802 Sky Warden to meet its Armed Overwatch requirements for an armed intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) platform. The Aug. 1 contract covers the supply of up to 75 Sky Wardens, as well as training and mission planning systems, spare parts and logistical support, and is capped at $3 billion, of which an initial $170 million will go toward development, testing, evaluation and procurement. The contract is due to be completed by 2029, with initial operation scheduled for 2026.
“Armed Overwatch addresses the critical need for U.S. Special Operations Command to conduct a wide range of operations worldwide in support of the national defense strategy,” said SOCOM Commander Gen. Richard D. Clark. “This rugged, resilient platform will operate in permissive and harsh environments around the world to protect our special operations forces on the ground.”
The L3Harris bid was selected from an eclectic field that included the Textron Aviation AT-6E Wolverine (an armed derivative of the T-6 trainer), the Leidos Bronco II (based on the Paramount Mwari), the MAG Aerospace MC-208 Guardian (entered into service by Cessna Caravan), and the Sierra Nevada MC-145B Wily Coyote (an adaptation of the PZL M28 Skytruck).
Powered by a 1,600 hp Pratt & Whitney PT6A-67F engine, the Sky Warden is a two-seat adaptation of the Air Tractor AT-802 agricultural aircraft, providing a six-hour 200-nm range. Air Tractor will ship the aircraft in “economy” condition from its factory in Olney, Texas before they are modified to Sky Warden standards at the L3Harris Modification Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Six aircraft are planned to be built as part of Lot 1 of the low speed initial production.
The two companies have been working together on the development of an armed ISR aircraft for some time, and development of a dedicated SOCOM aircraft began shortly after the Armed Overwatch program was announced in early 2020. Sky Warden was introduced in May 2021. Three prototypes were tested for some time, one of which was demonstrated in full mission configuration.
Key design features include an extremely robust airframe—a legacy of its agricultural roots—that allows operations from short, unprepared strips, and quick disassembly/assembly capability for rapid deployment by transport aircraft. The aircraft has a reinforced wing that allows it to carry up to 6,000 pounds of ammunition.
The mission system design focused on modularity to allow reconfiguration of the aircraft with various sensors and weapons located on the underwing mounting points. The communications system is comprehensive, including long-distance feedback capability via satellite communications. A number of armaments are provided for this type, the primary weapon being the BAE Systems APKWS 2.75-inch laser-guided missile. Other stores may include GBU-12 Paveway II laser-guided bombs, AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, and the AGM-176A Griffin tube missile.
In SOCOM service, the Sky Warden will perform many of the ISR missions performed by the Pilatus U-28A Draco, a modified PC-12 light business turboprop aircraft. However, the AT-802U also offers the ability to operate from virtually any location in harsh operational environments, as well as the ability to deploy weapons with high precision. It can also act as an airborne advanced air control platform. It is intended for irregular military missions in permitted environments, with counter-terrorist operations in Africa being one application. L3Harris characterizes the Sky Warden’s mission capability as a “stack collapse” of single-mode types, in which the aircraft combines the roles of multiple types into a single platform.
https://www.ainonline.com/aviation-news/defense/2022-08-03/l3harris-sky-warden-selected-armed-overwatch-program L3Harris Sky Warden selected for the Armed Overwatch program