On July 31, U.S. Special Operations Command awarded L3Harris [LHX] a contract worth up to $3 billion for SOCOM’s Armed Overwatch program.

Under the contract, L3Harris is to build 75 of the company’s AT-802U Sky Warden aircraft through July, 2029. SOCOM wants four squadrons of Armed Overwatch planes and 15 trainers.

“Armed Overwatch will provide Special Operations Forces deployable, affordable, and sustainable crewed aircraft systems fulfilling close air support, precision strike, and armed intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, requirements in austere and permissive environments for use in irregular warfare operations in support of the National Defense Strategy,” SOCOM said on Aug. 1.

The L3Harris and Air Tractor, Inc. team’s AT-802U Sky Warden beat out designs by four other teams, including a Leidos [LDOS] team’s Bronco II offering, MAG Aerospace’s MC-208 Guardian, Sierra Nevada Corp.’s and PZL Mielec‘s [LMT] MC-145B Wily Coyote and Textron’s [TXT] AT-6E Wolverine.

L3Harris said on Aug. 1 that the company “expects to rapidly modify last summer’s Armed Overwatch prototype demonstrator into the production configuration and provide for customer weapon system testing in approximately six months.”

“Production of new, fully-modified, Armed Overwatch mission-configured aircraft will begin in 2023 at L3Harris’ Tulsa, Okla. modification center, following initial production at Air Tractor’s Olney, Texas aircraft manufacturing facility,” per L3Harris. “Six new aircraft will be delivered under the low-rate initial production Lot 1.”

According to the Aug. 1 DoD contract announcement, SOCOM awarded $170 million to L3Harris on July 31 for those six planes.

Under Armed Overwatch, SOCOM has wanted to find a near-production ready small attack aircraft capable of providing commanders with armed reconnaissance, strike coordination and reconnaissance, and airborne forward air control “in austere and permissive environments for the Countering-Violent Extremist Organizations” mission.

L3Harris CEO Chris Kubasik said in a recent earnings call that Armed Overwatch represented “another opportunity [for L3Harris] to be a prime integrator” and that the company “decided to take a clean sheet approach to this program to align with the requirements.”

“It’s clearly a couple billion dollar opportunity here domestically and even more internationally,” he said. “There’s a lot of need for this type of capability in countries that are fighting terrorism. We’ve had discussions with countries in Africa, the Middle East, I think is where the initial potential is, you know, whether it’s border protection or maritime operations, lightstrike ISR. It’s a pretty flexible, pretty affordable program.”

SOCOM also is interested in exploring manned-unmanned teaming with Armed Overwatch aircraft and their ability to employ new Air Launched Effects.

While the U.S. Air Force ended its low-cost attack aircraft program in 2019, SOCOM adapted the Air Force effort for Armed Overwatch.