Armed Overwatch Aircraft to pick up OA-1K designation

SOCOM plans to designate the new L3 Harris/Air Tractor AT-802U Sky Warden “Armed Overwatch” aircraft as the OA-1K in service, borrowing the old “O” (observation) and “A” (attack) nomenclature but mashing them together with the same “1” as used by the legendary A-1 Skyraider and O-1 Bird Dog of Vietnam fame.

The last operational “OA” type (disregarding the fact that forward air controller-piloted A-10 Warthogs are deemed OA-10s as they are physically unchanged and remain fully combat capable despite the redesignation) was so long ago that it meant something different– the OA-4 Dolphin was a circa 1930s Army flying boat with the designation standing for Observation, Amphibian.

If you ask me, the new aircraft should be the OV-11, following in the path of the OV-10 Bronco and OV- 1 Mohawk, but of course, nobody asks me.

Air Tractor has been pushing this variant as a “strike ISR” platform for the past few years, which made a lot of sense when the U.S. was heavily engaged in COIN warfare for the past 20 years. 

SOCOM plans to procure a total of 75 OA-1Ks, organized into four operational 15-aircraft squadrons and the remainder used by a training and conversion unit. Falling under AFSOC, some 200 pilots and another 1,000 ground crew will be learning how to fly and maintain tail dragger combat aircraft— something not fielded by the U.S. since the 1940s– over the next few years.

The overall maximum program cost if everything is fully funded is $3 billion, which is a staggering $40 million per aircraft but includes the training pipeline and support.

The mission statement, per L3 Harris:

The fleet of modern multi-mission aircraft will address SOCOM’s need for a deployable, sustainable single-engine fixed-wing, crewed and affordable aircraft system. It will provide close air support, precision strike, armed intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), strike coordination and forward air controller requirements for use in austere and permissive environments. The aircraft will be used in irregular warfare operations.

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