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AT-802U Selected for U.S. SOCOM Overwatch Program

Down and Dirty, Up and Coming

The U.S. military’s Special Operations Command (SOCOM) has selected the AT-802U Sky Warden—produced by Air Tractor and L3Harris Technologies—for its Armed Overwatch program. Subject program seeks to replace the U-28A Draco intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft currently in-service with USAF Special Operations Command (AFSOC). The aging Dracos—militarized Pilatus PC-12s—have supported special operations teams since 2006.

The indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity, Sky Warden contract will be worth up to $3-billion.

Based in Olney, Texas, Air Tractor is renowned for its agricultural and firefighting aircraft. The Sky Warden is based on Air Tractor’s AT-802U—a 1,600-shaft-horsepower, PT6A-67F-powered brute with a maximum gross takeoff (and landing) weight of sixteen-thousand-pounds, and a useful load of 8,164-pounds. The AT-802U is the world’s largest single-engine turboprop and promises to handily shoulder the defensive and offensive loads requisite the Overwatch program’s close air support, precision air-strike, and armed ISR counterterrorism and irregular warfare missions.

Initial production of the Sky Warden will take place at Air Tractor’s facility in Olney. L3Harris will subsequently modify the green airplanes into the Armed Overwatch mission configuration at its Tulsa, Oklahoma modification center.

AFSOC brass—which aims to build a fleet of up to 75 Sky Wardens for deployment to austere locations—anticipates the aircraft will excel at pressuring lunatics and extremist groups in developing nations—the airspaces of which are essentially uncontested.

The Air Force’s shift in focus from near-peer engagements and precision stealth bombing to dirty little wars in dirty little backwaters favors robust, prosaic aircraft like the Sky Warden. The notion of operating $2-billion B-2 Spirits and squadrons of $139-million F-22 Raptors from dirt-runways in South Sudan isn’t one the Pentagon is inclined to entertain. Dispatching a bevy of muscular turboprops based on Air Tractor’s $2-million AT-802 platform is another matter entirely.

L3Harris asserts the Sky Warden moniker commemorates two best-in-class, multi-mission special operations combat platforms: Douglas’s venerable, Vietnam era, A-1E Sky Raider, and Pilatus’s contemporary U-28, which uses the callsign Warden during combat operations. L3Harris further states that the Sky Warden’s STOL capability, six-thousand-pound combat load-out, six-hour loiter time, and two-hundred-nautical-mile combat radius will enable the airplane to co-locate with the disaggregated ground units likely to play pivotal roles in future conflicts.



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