US Special Operations Picks Modified Crop-duster Plane for ‘Armed Overwatch’ Mission

After an extended competition between various solid contenders, U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) has selected the propeller-driven AT-802U ‘Sky Warden,’ made by L3Harris Technologies and Air Tractor, for its Armed Overwatch mission.

This has given proponents of prop planes for close air support a big boost.

SOCOM plans to use the single-engine Sky Warden, as Air Force Special Operations Command’s (AFSOC’s) Armed Overwatch plane, to provide close air support, precision strike and armed intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions for counterterrorism operations and irregular warfare.

See the full description of the Sky Warden Aircraft here:


Testifying to Congress in April, commander of AFSOC Lt. Gen. James C. “Jim” Slife said the Armed Overwatch program was designed to reduce the need for so-called “air stacks” of specialized, single-role aircraft to fly together over objective areas.

Slife also said last year he hopes Armed Overwatch aircraft will be suited to hitting extremist groups in places like Africa, in which the airspace is essentially uncontested.

The small, light plane will be low cost, able to take off and land in austere fields, fly for long periods, and support a variety of modular payloads.

L-3’s statement noted that:

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.

According to Air Force Magazine:

The deal could be worth up to $3 billion and will include 75 aircraft along with training systems, mission planning systems, support equipment, spares, and logistics support. Initial operating capability is expected in fiscal year 2026, with full operating capability following in 2029.

“Armed Overwatch answers a critical need for U.S. Special Operations Command to conduct a wide range of operations globally in support of the National Defense Strategy,” SOCOM Commander Gen. Richard Clarke said in a release.

“This rugged, sustainable platform will operate in permissive environments and austere conditions around the world to safeguard our special operations forces on the ground.” ADN

Paul Crespo is the Managing Editor of American Defense News. A defense and national security expert, he served as a Marine Corps officer and as a military attaché with the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) at US embassies worldwide. Paul holds degrees from Georgetown, London, and Cambridge Universities. He is also CEO of SPECTRE Global Risk, a security advisory firm, and President of the Center for American Defense Studies, a national security think tank. - - PAULCRESPO.COM

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5 months ago

As a bonus, it could be used for mosquito control around its base of operations if the original design sprayer equipment is available.