US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) has selected L3Harris Technologies as the lead contractor for its long-awaited Armed Overwatch programme.
The company was awarded a contract worth a maximum of USD3 billion on 31 July, although it was officially announced by the Tampa-based command on 1 August.
The Armed Overwatch programme intends to provide US Special Operations Forces (SOF) with up to 75 “deployable and sustainable manned aircraft systems [capable of] fulfilling close air support [CAS]; precision strike; and SOF intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) in austere and permissive environments”, according to USSOCOM's request for information for the programme.
Additional requirements called for a “multirole, modular” aircraft capable of supporting counter-terrorism/counter-violent extremist organisation operations in addition to “collapsing the stack by merging the capabilities of larger ISR and armed aircraft capabilities into one cost-effective, resilient package”.
Use of Armed Overwatch aircraft is expected to increase availability of other air assets to support operations against more advanced adversaries.
Initial operating capability for Armed Overwatch is expected in fiscal year (FY) 2026, followed by full operating capability in FY 2029. “This system will be able to operate from austere fields, possess long endurance, support modular payloads, and operate at a low cost allowing USSOCOM to counter persistent multidomain threats and deter strategic attacks in support of the 2022 NDS [National Defense Strategy]” USSOCOM said.
L3Harris's solution, the AT-802U Sky Warden, was displayed at SOF Industry Conference (SOFIC) in May ahead of USSOCOM's final decision. Sky Warden conducted prototype aircraft demonstrations throughout 2021 against Sierra Nevada Corporation's MC-145B Coyote Multirole Strike aircraft and Textron Aviation Defense's Beechcraft AT-6E Wolverine.