Tricked out Air Tractor 802U aircraft are going to be purchased by the US military after being outfitted with surveillance equipment and the capability of carrying weapons.
U.S. Special Operations Command has awarded a $3 billion contract to L3Harris Technologies to build up to 75 Sky Wardens. They expect to begin delivery in fiscal year 2026 with full operating capability in 2029.
The basic aircraft, AT 802U, will be built by Air Tractor at their Olney, Texas aircraft manufacturing facility. L3Harris Technologies will add the additional equipment beginning in 2023 at their Tulsa, Oklahoma modification center.
L3Harris said the Sky Warden 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.
Air Force Magazine wrote that commander of Air Force Special Operations Command Lt. Gen. James C. “Jim” Slife testified before Congress in April that 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. In particular, the aircraft will likely be used to counter terrorist threats, often in coordination with troops on the ground.
Air Tractor is known for producing single engine agricultural spraying and firefighting aircraft. But the 802U has been around for at least 13 years after making a big splash at the 2009 Paris Air Show outfitted with bombs, rockets, and .50 caliber Gatling guns. (Wildfire Today, June 18, 2009)
There was a report in 2014 that the United States was considering modifying either the AT 802U or a Thrush to be sent to Yemen to battle terrorists. They were to be equipped with laser-guided missiles and high-tech electronic intelligence equipment, as well as armor to protect the crew.
Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Morgan and Gerald.