Leidos, Paramount USA and Vertex Aerospace enter final phase of SOCOM’s Armed Overwatch Competition


Leidos has announced that its team, which includes Paramount USA, has been selected to enter the final phase of the US Special Operations Command’s (US SOCOM’s) Armed Overwatch aircraft flight demonstration programme, which could see around 75 aircraft acquired.

Leidos, Paramount USA (a subsidiary of Paramount Group), and Vertex were among five teams awarded a total of $19.3 million for prototype demonstrations and will advance the Bronco II aircraft to the Phase III Operational Prototype Demonstration later this month. The Bronco II is the US variant of the AHRLAC/Mwari that is being manufactured at Paramount’s Wonderboom factory.

The other teams are Textron Aviation Defence with its AT-6E Wolverine, L3 with its AT-802U Sky Warden, MAG Aerospace with its MC-208 Guardian and Sierra Nevada Corporation with its M28/C-145 Wily Coyote.

SOCOM on 14 May announced the contract awards for demonstrations, which will be carried out at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida between 14 June and 23 July. 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.

“We believe that Bronco II is the definitive next generation aircraft, which has been designed to be future-proofed against evolving operational requirements in the asymmetrical battlespace specifically inhabited by SOCOM,” said Ivor Ichikowitz, Chairman Paramount Group. “Through our partnerships with Leidos, we are looking forward to building upon our 27-year legacy of designing and producing rugged technologically advanced systems. Our team has designed and developed an America centric platform for the world market, and we are looking forward to bringing Bronco II back to America.”

Leidos, Paramount Group USA and Vertex Aerospace in May 2020 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 AHRLAC/Mwari is currently being manufactured for several international customers at Paramount’s Wonderboom factory. The Mwari is the militarised version of the AHRLAC (Advanced High-performance Reconnaissance Light Aircraft) and is designed to incorporate advanced intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities, and close air support (CAS) and weapons systems and have operating costs of less than $1 000 an hour, making it cheaper than helicopters and most other fixed wing competitors. Weapons options include guided munitions, guided rockets, air-to-ground missiles and a cannon pod.

Leidos said the Bronco II is designed for ultimate mission flexibility. “The aircraft’s unique internal Interchangeable Multi-Mission System Bay (IMSB) allows for a single airframe to be easily and rapidly re-configured to perform multiple roles (e.g. Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance; Strike Coordination and Reconnaissance; Forward Air Control; Close Air Support) incorporating high-performance sensors, network communication systems, precision weapons, an electronic self-protection suite, and mission planning systems.” The Bronco II in the United States has been fitted with weapons and sensors by Leidos.

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. These aircraft are competing for a roughly 75-aircraft order worth around $900 million.

“Our team combines decades of experience both integrating and manufacturing cutting-edge airborne solutions for the warfighter,” said Gerry Fasano, Leidos Defence Group president. “We are thrilled to have been selected to compete in the final phase.”

“Vertex has a 50-year legacy of supporting warfighter missions,” said Ed Boyington, President and CEO of Vertex Aerospace. “Vertex’s highly skilled employees will assemble the aircraft and provide the final systems support integration and launch the Bronco II for customer delivery from our Crestview, Florida facility. We are proud to be an integral part of this team.”

“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.