After years of development, the U.S. Special Operations Command is entering low-rate initial production of the AT-802U Sky Warden light attack aircraft, aiming to replace specialized aircraft and provide cost-effective, modular capabilities for close air support and intelligence missions.
The U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) is set to realize its vision of a fleet of new multi-role “armed overwatch” aircraft. Defense contractors L3Harris and Air Tractor have entered low-rate initial production of their AT-802U Sky Warden light attack aircraft for SOCOM under a $3 billion contract. The command aims to have a total fleet of 75 aircraft to support special operations forces. The Sky Warden is designed to provide crewed deployable, affordable, and sustainable aircraft systems for close air support, precision strike, and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions in challenging environments. The aircraft is based on the Air Tractor AT-802, a single-engine turboprop aircraft known for its ruggedness and large payload capacity. The Sky Warden variant features ballistic armor, a payload capacity of 8,000 pounds, a combat radius of 200 nautical miles, and 10 external hardpoints. It will replace the U-28A Draco ISR aircraft in SOCOM’s inventory. The goal is to replace multiple single-role specialized aircraft with a modular capability that offers superior sensors and cost-effective performance. However, full-rate production has been delayed by three months to address training and system requirements.