The House Appropriations Committee is recommending cutting $80 million from the U.S. Special Operations Command’s (SOCOM) $101 million procurement request for the “Armed Overwatch” program in fiscal 2021.
Last year, congressional appropriators criticized the U.S. Air Force’s handling of the light attack experiment and called for SOCOM to build requirements for such systems during the markup of the FY ’20 National Defense Authorization Act–a transition that led to SOCOM’s “Armed Overwatch” program.
SOCOM called for the procurement of five aircraft under the program in the fiscal 2021 request, but House appropriators advised cutting $80 million from the request and said that the $80 million was “excess to need.”
While House appropriators counseled the $80 million procurement cut, they also recommended adding $20 million for Armed Overwatch research and development under SOCOM’s nearly $231 million request for Aviation Systems Advanced Development.
SOCOM’s “Armed Overwatch” program is to provide commanders with armed reconnaissance, strike coordination and reconnaissance, and airborne forward air control in the counter-violent extremism fight, per DoD budget documents. SOCOM has planned for the program to be a three-phased competition culminating in a live-fly demonstration in November, and SOCOM’s acquisition executive James Smith said in May that industry has had strong interest in the program.
Competitors have already submitted initial proposals, Smith said. SOCOM has planned to examine the offerings ahead of a potential downselect to the demonstration phase in November. The command has said it could award up to four contracts of $4 million ahead of a tentative production contract. SOCOM has said it could procure up to 75 aircraft in the next five to seven years.
A number of companies that participated in the Air Force’s light attack experiment are interested in Armed Overwatch. An Embraer–Sierra Nevada Corp. (SNC) team, Textron Defense [TXT], and an Air Tractor-L3 Technologies [LHX] team pitched four aircraft among the three groups to participate in live demonstrations with the Air Force in 2017. In 2019, the Air Force opted to procure two to three SNC-Embraer A-29 Super Tucano aircraft and Textron AT-6 Wolverine turboprops each.
In March, Textron said that it had received a $70.2 million contract from the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center for two AT-6s.
Textron has said that it is participating in SOCOM’s Armed Overwatch program with the AT-6, while Leidos [LDOS] has said that it is teamed with Paramount Group USA and Vertex Aerospace to offer the multi-mission Bronco II.
Smith said in May that while companies have offered manned aircraft, unmanned systems would also be considered — although they may be more expensive to operate than what SOCOM is seeking.
In other SOCOM news, the command said that the first 20 Degraded Visual Environment Pilotage Systems (DVEPS) by Sierra Nevada Corp. (SNC) are to be fielded this year.
Last month, SNC said that it would begin full-rate DVEPS production at the company’s facility in Sparks, Nev.
In April, SNC won an $88 million contract for the DVEPS for Lockheed Martin [LMT] MH-60 helicopters and Boeing [BA] MH-47 helicopters for SOCOM’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. DVEPS is to fuse information from aircraft sensors and digital terrain elevation data to display real-time reference points, obstacles, and landing zone information to the air crews. The contract award boosts the total possible award to a ceiling of $110 million, according to DoD.
SOCOM has budgeted about $13 million per year for DVEPS through fiscal 2025.
DVEPS “will provide MH-47 and MH-60 aircrews with visual cues for obstacle avoidance and aircraft control during all phases of flight and significantly increase crew and passenger survivability in DVE,” SOCOM said in the DoD fiscal 2021 budget request. “The AAQ-250 brownout camera (a sub-component of the DVE Pilotage System) is an interim capability to provide the user with enhanced situational awareness ahead of the full DVE system. Procured brownout cameras will be provided as government furnished equipment to the vendor once production begins on DVE Pilotage Systems.”
As DVEPS fielding moves forward on the MH-60, MH-47, and HH-60, the House Appropriations Committee is calling upon the U.S. Army to submit a DVEPS strategy for the service’s marquee Future Vertical Lift program.
“The committee is concerned that the Army has not developed a comprehensive strategy to transition DVEPS to a Degraded Visual Environment program of record for enduring future vertical lift platforms,” according to the House Appropriations Committee’s report on the committee’s version of the fiscal 2021 defense funding bill.
“Operational testing of DVEPS has demonstrated increased situational awareness of hazards during all phases of flight, a key enabler for aircraft to fly in multi-domain operations using tactics, techniques, and procedures to counter anti-access, area denial threats,” the report said. “The committee directs the secretary of the Army to submit a report to the congressional defense committees not later than 120 days after the enactment of this act which outlines DVEPS role in future vertical lift platforms.”