The United States has selected the Bronco II multi-role aircraft to take part in the Special Operations Command (SOCOM) Armed Overwatch flight demonstration along with the Textron Aviation Defence AT-6E Wolverine, L3 AT-802U Sky Warden, MAG Aerospace MC-208 Guardian and Sierra Nevada Corporation M28/C-145 Wily Coyote.
On 14 May SOCOM announced that it had awarded five fixed-price prototype project other transaction agreements (OTAs) totalling $19 million to five companies for prototype demonstrations in mid-2021. Each company will fly four demonstration flights between 14 June and 23 July at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, Janes reports. If the prototype project is successful, a company could be requested to provide a proposal for a follow-on production award, most likely in 2022.
SOCOM’s 75-aircraft Armed Overwatch acquisition was halted in November (when flight trials were originally due to commence) but resumed after a review, according to Aviation Week.
Special Operations Command revealed its Armed Overwatch programme in February 2020. SOCOM previously evaluated the OV-10G+ Bronco in a field test in Iraq in 2015 as it pursues a light attack capability. The command is looking to budget $101 million for the first new light attack aircraft with another ten per year for the next seven years.
Leidos, Paramount Group USA and Vertex Aerospace in May last year announced they had teamed up to pursue the Armed Overwatch contract with the Bronco II intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and light attack aircraft. Leidos is the prime contractor and Paramount and Vertex are primary teammates. The Bronco II would be manufactured in Crestview, Florida and designed to meet the specific needs of US Special Operations Command.
The Bronco II will now face off against the AC-208 (armed Cessna Caravan turboprop), M28/C-145 (a new armed version of the Skytruck twin-engine light transport), AT-802U (armed version of the cropduster) and AT-6E Wolverine trainer/light attack aircraft. Interestingly, the Sierra Nevada/Embraer A-29 Super Tucano was not selected for the flyoff. Unmanned aerial vehicles are not favoured as they require a larger footprint than manned aircraft.
“The Armed Overwatch acquisition programme aims to provide Special Operations Forces with deployable, affordable and sustainable manned aircraft systems capable of executing close-air support, precision strike and armed intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance requirements in austere and permissive environments for use in operations against violent extremist organizations,” SOCOM said.
SOCOM presently flies U-28 Draco (PC-12) and MC-12 Liberty (King Air 350ER) turboprops for light reconnaissance and forward air control – they have been deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq. The new aircraft would be able to launch munitions as well, when necessary.