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UAV proponent urges SOCOM to consider unmanned aircraft for Armed Overwatch procurement

Key Points

US Special Operations Command (SOCOM) should consider buying unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) instead of only manned platforms for its highly anticipated Armed Overwatch procurement, according to an industry insider.

Armed Overwatch will provide special operations forces (SOF) with deployable and sustainable manned aircraft systems fulfilling close air support (CAS), precision strike, and SOF intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) in austere and permissive environments. This is according to an announcement posted by SOCOM Program Executive Office-Fixed Wing (PEO-FW) on the federal contracting website. The aircraft procured will also support US Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) missions such as CAS, armed reconnaissance, strike co-ordination and reconnaissance, and airborne forward air control.

The Pentagon often uses modified Pilatus PC-12 aircraft, known as U-28 in DoD service, for surveillance in armed overwatch missions. An industry source believes US Special Operations Command prefers manned aircraft for its Armed Overwatch procurement to recapitalise its U-28 fleet.

SOCOM anticipates funding a prototype and a possible follow-on contract with a base five-year ordering period and a two-year option ordering period. The command could buy as many as 75 aircraft, with associated support. SOCOM had an industry day in early March to brief interested companies.

This industry insider, who requested anonymity in order to discuss sensitive requirements development, told Jane’s on 24 April that UAVs generally can provide longer endurance, a better communications suite, and improved situational awareness with modern sensors. These sensors include high-definition video with telescopic zoom, electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR), and wide area surveillance with ground moving target indicator (GMTI). The UAVs that would satisfy Armed Overwatch requirements would be those in the Group 5 category that weigh 600 kg and over.

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