The US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) has selected an agricultural aircraft adapted for the Armed Overwatch program, intended for attack missions and close air support in “irregular warfare” operations.
The aircraft is the AT-802U Sky Warden, an armed version based on the AT-802 plane, from Air Tractor, a company that partnered with L3Harris to participate in the competition.
Sky Warden defeated Textron’s AT-6E Wolverine (based on the T-6 Texan trainer), in addition to the MC-208 Guardian (a military Cessna Caravan) and the MC-145B Wily Coyote, an adaptation of the PZL M28 made by Sierra Nevada.
The contract with SOCOM is capped at US$3 billion, with US$170 million initially being released for the program. The forecast is that 75 aircraft will be built from 2023 at L3Harris’ Tulsa, Oklahoma facility, following basic assembly by Air Tractor in Olney, Texas. Initial operational capacity should be achieved in 2026 and full in 2029.
“Armed Overwatch answers a critical need for U.S. Special Operations Command to conduct a wide range of operations globally in support of the National Defense Strategy,” said SOCOM Commander Gen. Richard D. Clarke. “This rugged, sustainable platform will operate in permissive environments and austere conditions around the world to safeguard our Special Operations Forces on the ground.”
L3Harris and Air Tractor developed the Sky Warden under the AT-802 firefighting design, which allowed it to offer the highest payload among competitors.
By irregular warfare operations, it is understood the use of Sky Warden in regions with terrorist threats, in coordination with troops on the ground.