TYR Tactical

USSOCOM Selects L3 Communications Integrated Systems AT-802U Sky Warden for Armed Overwatch Aircraft

USSOCOM has made a decision for it’s Armed Overwatch program which will add 75 aircraft to provide dedicated Close Air Support, precision strike, and airborne intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) from austere locations in a permissive environment.

It’s the Sky Warden from the L3 / Air Tractor team.

DoD made this announcement on 1 August:

L3 Communications Integrated Systems, Greenville, Texas, was awarded an indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract (FA8637-22-D-B001) in the amount of $3,000,000,000 (maximum ceiling value) in support of Armed Overwatch. Research, development, test, and evaluation; and procurement funds in the amount of $170,000,000 were obligated at time of the award. Armed Overwatch will provide Special Operations Forces deployable, affordable, and sustainable crewed aircraft systems fulfilling close air support, precision strike, and armed intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, requirements in austere and permissive environments for use in irregular warfare operations in support of the National Defense Strategy. The contract will be a mixture of firm-fixed-price, cost-plus-fixed-fee, time and materials, and cost reimbursement no-fee for the procurement of up to 75 aircraft, training systems, mission planning systems, support equipment, spares, and logistics support, with a period of performance from July 2022 to July 2029, including all options. The majority of the work will be done in Greenville, Texas. This action is a follow-on production contract in accordance with 10 U.S. Code 4022(f) authorized or required by statute. U.S. Special Operations Command, MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, is the contracting activity. (Awarded July 31, 2022)

Here is the L3 Harris Press Release:



• Sky Warden™ system to expand SOCOM’s irregular warfare capabilities

• SOCOM weapon system testing begins in 2022

• Six new aircraft will be delivered under the low-rate initial production Lot 1

MELBOURNE, Fla. — U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) has selected L3Harris Technologies (NYSE:LHX) and Air Tractor, Inc.’s AT-802U Sky Warden™ system for its Armed Overwatch program. Award of the Indefinite Quantity, Indefinite Delivery contract includes a cost ceiling of $3 billion. The program includes delivery of up to 75 manned, fixed wing aircraft, with an initial program contract award of $170 million.

The fleet of modern multi-mission aircraft will address SOCOM’s need for a deployable, sustainable single-engine fixed-wing, crewed and affordable aircraft system. It will provide close air support, precision strike, armed intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), strike coordination and forward air controller requirements for use in austere and permissive environments. The aircraft will be used in irregular warfare operations.  

“An important part of our Trusted Disruptor strategy is listening closely to combatant commanders’ needs, and responding faster than the evolving threats,” said Christopher E. Kubasik, Chair and Chief Executive Officer, L3Harris. “We want to deliver game-changing, modular solutions to U.S. special operators for their hardest missions, and Sky Warden does just that.” 

L3Harris expects to rapidly modify last summer’s Armed Overwatch prototype demonstrator into the production configuration and provide for customer weapon system testing in approximately six months. Production of new, fully-modified, Armed Overwatch mission-configured aircraft will begin in 2023 at L3Harris’ Tulsa, Okla. modification center, following initial production at Air Tractor’s Olney, Texas aircraft manufacturing facility. Six new aircraft will be delivered under the low-rate initial production Lot 1.

“Sky Warden will bring powerful and affordable close air support, precision strike, armed ISR, and command and control capabilities directly to special operations forces in the battlefield,” said Sean Stackley, President, Integrated Mission Systems, L3Harris. “We are ready now to begin work on this modern, multi-mission system for the SOCOM Armed Overwatch program.”

The production-ready Sky Warden system is tailorable for a variety of mission requirements to meet U.S. mission needs.

“The Sky Warden design reflects our commitment to America’s national security and the AT-802U will be equipped with everything we’ve learned manufacturing aircraft over the past 46 years,” said Jim Hirsch, President, Air Tractor, Inc. “The L3Harris team is an excellent partner, and our production and engineering staff are ready to immediately deliver this world-class product to our nation’s special forces.”

Learn more about Sky Warden at www.L3Harris.com/SkyWarden.

21 Responses to “USSOCOM Selects L3 Communications Integrated Systems AT-802U Sky Warden for Armed Overwatch Aircraft”

  1. MINN-KOTA says:

    Didn’t the CIA “Steal” this idea from a certain someone… ?

  2. Mark G. says:

    Really trying to understand the value of this airplane in the age of unmanned drones. You’ll be able to hear that thing coming from a couple of miles away and SAFAD’s will be extremely effective against it.

    • Yawnz says:

      Longer time on station. MANPADS are already effective against basically any currently-existing aircraft that would be used in this role, and this one is far less overt in appearance.

  3. Hubb says:

    I’m not sure what this aircraft does that an A-10 can’t do better.

    • I’ll guess a big goal was just to be cheaper / easier to produce?

      • Jon, OPT says:

        STOL aircraft, low maintenance signature, capable of landing on unimproved runway. Easily loads into numerous air-frames to take it into theater. Just my guess, I have not seen the needs statement. However, down range, I have seen the need, and it makes sense to me.

    • Tom says:

      CAS a lot cheaper, more time on station in low intensity conflicts so the A-10 can be used for more near peer events?

      That being said, ground loops anyone?

      • JP says:

        Ability to operate on rough/unimproved runway surfaces.

        No expert here but I imagine the A-10 is much more manpower intensive to maintain than this guy.

    • Hobnail John says:

      In essence it does all the things people say they like about the A-10 but cheaper and simpler with superior ISR capabilities out of the box (at least compared to the original A-10 config) and with a second crew member to drastically reduce work loads. And without the pretense that fixed wing aircraft have anyplace flying low and slow in contested environments that adds a bunch of cost, weight, and logistical overhead to the A-10 that no longer makes and maybe never made sense.

  4. G3SM says:

    I’m going to need an aviation age waiver, stat!

  5. Czerta says:

    I get it for the strike role, I dont get it for the ISR role.
    More efficient operation at lower altitudes?
    Seems like a UAS or DRACO would fill ISR role better

  6. Hubb says:

    I read the article but do not see what service will man/fly/maintain them or where they will be based.

    • Cody says:

      Thats my question. Who fly’s this thing?

      • Hobnail John says:

        Considering the Air Force has an aneurysm every time the Army thinks about an aircraft without rotating wings my bet would be them.

      • Jon, OPT says:

        The article linked at the beginning of this article, states that AFSOC ran the testing, which could be a hint at who will take the helm on this one. But, who knows, that could simply be because it was conducted at Eglin AFB.


      • Jon, OPT says:

        In fact, that article states manning, so that inadvertently answers this question in full.

        “As an offset, it looks like AFSOC’s fleet of U-28A “Draco”, a legacy airborne ISR aircraft which is based on the Pilatus PC-12 will get the axe to help free up manpower billets, ramp space and the budget. Draco can’t fulfill the Armed Overwatch mission due to its lack of close air support capability.”

  7. rob371 says:

    I think people are missing the “permissive” part. This is a great design for austere environments with low shoot down threat. Simple design that can do short field unimproved take-off and recovery. Good Loiter time and I’m sure some sort of CIRCM type ASE suite to defeat certain MANPADs threats. Is it going to be pressed into a near peer IADS environment? No. Can it hang over some SOCOM w/partnered SOF in sub-saharan Africa? I think so.

  8. Winston says:

    So that’s why they never made Planes 3.

    Dusty Crophopper was too busy upgrading himself

  9. Paul Petitt says:

    Would not some A10 have been better, after all the AF wants to be rid of them.