The Task & Purpose website posted an article recently about the latest idea in the works for SOCOM to develop its own fleet of “Armed Overwatch” aircraft to be used in support of special operators in their unique kinds of missions. According to Task & Purpose, SOCOM has desired this kind of aircraft because they say it will provide them with a “crewed deployable and armed intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance requirements in austere and permissive environments [consistent with] irregular warfare operations.”
This new aircraft is being built by defense contractors, L3Harris and Air Tractor. The original design of this new light attack aircraft was as a crop duster. If you have ever seen crop dusters at work, you will know how agile they are. L3Harris and Air Tractor recently won a $3 billion contract to transform this former crop duster design into a light attack aircraft for SOCOM’s purposes. It is a single engine turboprop AT802U called “Sky Warden.” It will be designed as a multi-role “armed overwatch” aircraft.
The SOCOM “Armed Overwatch” program is calling for a fleet of 75 of these unique aircraft. L3Harris and Air Tractor have begun production on the plane, and, according to the Task & Purpose article, the SOCOM acquisition executive, Jim Smith, has observed the current early production line and stated that the command was “very pleased with the progress.”
As stated earlier, the original design of this aircraft was as a crop duster. It has a rugged airframe and a relatively large payload capacity and was originally used as a crop duster in counter-narcotic missions in South America because it could land and take off from unimproved airstrips and dirt roads.
The Sky Warden variant that is in early production will have a payload capacity of up to 8,000 lbs. It will have ballistic armor and will be able to loiter on station for up to 6 hours with a 200-nautical-mile radius. It will also feature 10 external hard points, 8 on the wings for 600-pound bombs, 2 centerline for 1,000-pound bombs, and the innermost wing station will be “optimized” for firearms, either .50-cal. machine guns or 20mm cannons.
The aircraft is not yet ready for service. It will be the first “tail dragger” aircraft in the US Air Force inventory in decades. Pilots will need training to address new skills and systems before it will be ready for active duty service. If and when the time comes, it is intended to replace SOCOM’s current fleet of U-28A Draco ISR aircraft.
When I saw the picture of what it is going to look like, I thought that it was a tough and mean looking machine. In my day, there was an aircraft called the OV-10 that provided air support that was both critical and extremely efficient and even deadly. They could hang around for a long time, observing enemy movements from above and providing us reconners with real-time intelligence, as well as put some serious firepower on the enemy when needed.
When Sky Warden is finally ready for service, it will be designated the OA-1K. It is SOCOM’s hope that this will be its most versatile, purposeful, and effective new asset for special operations forces to have in the air for support on their unusual and irregular kinds of missions.Whizzco