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L3Harris Expanding Footprint in Oklahoma

Cites Growing Demand for Special Ops Aircraft

The L3Harris Technologies production facility in Tulsa, Oklahoma will see an expansion under plans to increase output as demand for special purpose aircraft are increasingly selected for their affordable, reliable, and capable designs.

The announcement comes in anticipation of the U.S. Special Operations Command Armed Overwatch Program contract award for the fighting variant of their agricultural workhorse, the Air Tractor. The AT802-U Sky Warden takes the rugged aircraft and runs it through the gamut of Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) Strike mission systems and suites to create a smaller, lighter, and cheaper aerial platform suited to the kind of missions undertaken by SOCOM. 

The Armed Overwatch program has been a popular contract to hunt, with the Air Force Special Operations Command planning to buy 75 aircraft for ISR and close-air support in austere regions. The costly middle east interventions saw many of the fleet's more expensive, thirsty aircraft waste valuable airframe hours flying high-speed laps in support of ground operations. For areas of uncontested aerial supremacy, the cheaper turboprop could save tremendous amounts of funding and wear on costlier aircraft while loitering for extended periods at low speed. The hardy, rugged gear and agricultural design make the Air Tractor a fine base for the missions needed for SOCOM. With short takeoff and landing requirements, unpaved air strip capability, and economic fuel burn the 802U can offer troops a powerful airborne tool that's much simpler to service and maintain in theater. With its lower profile, smaller operational footprint, the Sky Warden can join disaggregated ground units and co-locate with them in ways traditional multirole jets never could. 

The Sky Warden boasts a 6 hour loiter when flown within a 200 nm combat radius while carrying a 6,000 lb combat loadout. Equipped with comms systems and datalinks for multiple comms for line-of-sight and beyond, with multiple EO/IR, ISR, and integrated sensors, the Warden combines some of the best functions of light, unmanned recon systems with the strike capabilities needed for powerful, accurate ground support. L3Harris has seen more than 1.3 million hours of strike support and ISR time on the aircraft type, with examples in use around the world. 

Versions of the light attack aircraft purchase have been eyed for years, but in October 2021, Lieutenant General Jim Slife told reporters that congressional support looked healthy for the program. At the time the appropriations acts were yet to be finalized, but he felt confident the first aircraft would be on their way soon, saying “the initial committee feedback that we’ve gotten has indicated that I think there’s a good likelihood that we’ll go into procurement in fiscal year ’22.” The Sky Warden is one of 3 contestants remaining in competition for the contract, but L3Harris sees potential for its aircraft going forward owing to its production output, immediate availability, and wide-ranging support. 

FMI: www.l3harris.com

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