US military contractor L3Harris Technologies announced that the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM, the command of all branches of special forces) has selected the AT-802U Sky Warden aircraft for its Armed Overwatch program.
The goal of the Armed Overwatch program is to have a fleet of 75 light aircraft that can act as scouts, observers, and support aircraft, use unprepared runways, have high endurance, and require low costs to deploy and operate.
The agreement with L3Harris Technologies does not have precisely established delivery dates and the number of aircraft, but its maximum possible value is quite significant – $3 billion. The initial contract was concluded for $170 million, which is 6 vehicles.
In fact, the most interesting thing about this deal is the aircraft chosen by USSOCOM – the AT-802U Sky Warden. This is the military version of the AT-802 agricultural aircraft from the company with the telling name Air Tractor. A kind of American Mule, which was turned into a fairly universal combat vehicle. And why not?! Takes off from any airfield, durable, strong, easy to control, and also able to lift a bunch of weapons into the air for all occasions.
Air Tractor’s history begins with the Air Tractor AT-300 agricultural aircraft (1973), which in turn was based on the 1956 Ayres Thrush S-2B aircraft (in fact, they are still in production today). Air Tractor AT-802 is a more modern version from 1990. In the original two-seater, it has an agricultural, fire and… military version.
The two-seat military AT-802U was presented in 2008. Of course, the fertilizer tank was removed from it, instead, engine and cockpit protection, bulletproof glass and self-tightening fuel tanks were added. In addition, the structure of the wings has been strengthened. It is now possible to hang up to 4,100 kg (!) of payload on 8 nodes (suspension) under them – bombs, missiles, automatic guns, surveillance and radio reconnaissance systems, etc. There are two more suspension nodes under the fuselage. The manufacturer guarantees this reinforced structure 12,000 flight times. And in general, the amount of payload compared to the weight of an empty AT-802U is really impressive – an aircraft weighing 3,703 kg can lift 4,100 kg of weapons into the air.
The AT-802U Sky Warden is a redesign of the AT-802U from L3Harris Technologies with an emphasis on surveillance and reconnaissance systems, but the combat capabilities of the AT-802U have not been forgotten here either.
But still, the main advantages of the AT-802U are low costs, use from any airfield, ease of maintenance. With a full load, the AT-802U can take off from a ground strip 426 m long, with equipment only for observation, 335 m is enough. To land an aircraft, only 366 m is needed. At the same time, the AT-802U can spend up to 6 hours in the air.
Nice vehicle. Not quite the A-10 Thunderbolt II, but not bad either. It would be great to have it.
Crew – 2
Length – 10.95 m
Height – 3.89 m
Wingspan – 18.04 m
Wing area – 37.25 m2
Empty weight – 3,703 kg
Max takeoff weight – 7,803 kg
Number of suspension points – 10
Powerplant – 1 × turboprop Pratt & Whitney PT6A-67F, 1,600 hp. (1,193 kW)
Cruise speed – 333 km/h
Maximum speed – 394 km/h
Range – 1300 km
Service ceiling – 4,000 m
Rate of climb – 4.3 m/s