WASHINGTON — U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command has tapped five companies to compete in its armed overwatch program for a new attack aircraft, awarding $19.2 million in contracts among the vendors.
The selected companies will now build and fly prototype aircraft in a series of demonstrations at Eglin Air Force Base, Floria. Those competitors include:
- Leidos’ Bronco II
- MAG Aerospace’s MC-208 Guardian
- Textron Aviation Defense’s AT-6E Wolverine
- L3Harris Technologies’ AT-802U Sky Warden
- Sierra Nevada Corp.’s MC-145B Wily Coyote
Demonstrations are set to occur through March 2022, according to a solicitation on SAM.gov. Afterward, AFSOC will determine whether any of the aircraft meet its requirements. If so, “the contractor may be requested to provide a production proposal for a follow-on production award,” the solicitation stateed.
In February, AFSOC commander Lt. Gen. James Slife said he was hopeful procurement of a new platform could start in 2022.
“I think we can do [the program] at relatively low risk based on what we’ve seen from the vendors who have indicated that they intend to bring platforms to demonstrate for us in the coming months,” Slife said.
AFSOC plans to buy up to 75 armed overwatch platforms to replace the U-28 Draco, and the command is looking at nondevelopmental, multimission aircraft that can be reconfigured to collect intelligence and perform close-air support for ground forces.
Like the Draco, the new overwatch aircraft should be tailored for missions in uncontested environments like that of Africa, capable of operating in austere conditions with only a minimal logistics footprint.
“The whole reason we’re doing this is because the National Defense Strategy talks about the need to do cost-effective [counter-violent extremist organization] operations, cost-effective irregular warfare,” Slife said. “So the operating environment where we currently operate U-28s is about the same operating environment where we would envision operating armed overwatch platforms.”
Valerie Insinna is Defense News' air warfare reporter. She previously worked the Navy/congressional beats for Defense Daily, which followed almost three years as a staff writer for National Defense Magazine. Prior to that, she worked as an editorial assistant for the Tokyo Shimbun’s Washington bureau.