SOFIC NEWS: Industry, SOCOM Gearing Up for 'Armed Overwatch' Demo

By Jon Harper
Beechcraft AT-6 Wolverine

U.S. Air Force photo by Ethan D. Wagner

Special Operations Command will soon put five industry offerings through their paces as it searches for a new “Armed Overwatch” aircraft to support commandos.

The command wants a new platform to replacement its U-28A Draco manned intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance plane. On May 14, SOCOM announced that it had awarded contracts totaling $19.2 million to industry teams competing for the program.

A demonstration of their platforms is slated for June 14-July 23 at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, SOCOM Acquisition Executive Jim Smith told reporters May 17 during a media roundtable at the National Defense Industrial Association’s virtual Special Operations Forces Industry Conference.

Aircraft that will participate in the demo include: L3Harris’ AT-802 aircraft, Leidos’ Bronco II, MAG Aerospace’s MC-208, Sierra Nevada Corp.’s MC-145 and Textron’s AT-6, Smith said.

SOCOM is “really, really pleased with the progress to date on the Armed Overwatch program and the industry partners that have committed to it over the last months,” Smith said. “This demonstration is … for them to demonstrate their hardware, their platforms in a realistic environment.”

The command wants a manned system that is a “near non-developmental platform” and “essentially just about production ready.” SOCOM is taking a “fly-before-you-buy” approach, he noted.

“This demonstration will show how real the capability is and how available we suspect it will be in the near term,” Smith said.

Each of the five industry partners will conduct a total of five flights. The aircraft will be judged based on their ability to take off and land in “austere” environments; range and endurance; weapons employment; line-of-sight and beyond-line-of-sight communications; full-motion video capability; autopilot capability; and the oxygen system, Smith said.

During each aircraft’s final flight, an Air Force Special Operations Command “blue suit” official will be in the backseat assessing characteristics such as maneuverability and handling, he noted.

“There are several … key performance parameters,” Smith said. “Can it fly? Can it get where it needs to get to, from where it needs to get there? And then can it employ weapons … effectively, does it have the right sensors on board, and can it communicate?”

SOCOM hopes to procure as many as 75 Armed Overwatch platforms in coming years if Congress appropriates the necessary funding.

Topics: Special Operations, Special Operations, SOF Weapons Systems, Air Power

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