Bronco II light attack aircraft returns for US Special Ops Armed Overwatch mission

South Africa’s Paramount Group’s Bronco II light attack aircraft is now an option for the United States Special Operations Command’s (SOCOM) Armed Overwatch programme. It is being marketed by Leidos which specializes in information technology, engineering, and science solutions and targets the defense, intelligence, homeland security, civil, and health markets.

Leidos will act as the prime contractor while the US subsidiary of Paramount Group will serve as the sub-contractor and will provide the Maintenance, Repair, and Overhaul (MRO), Vertex Aerospace (formerly a business unit of L3 Technologies) specializes in offering maintenance, life support, aerostructures fabrication, and aircraft integration services, will also serve as the sub-contractor.  

Under Leidos, the Bronco II will be manufactured in Crestview, Florida, and is designed to meet the specific needs of US Special Operations Command. Additional partners for the Bronco II platform include Leonardo DRS, Dynetics, Beast Code, Fulcrum Concepts, and Concord XXI aviation flight training.

“Leidos has a long history as a premier provider of airborne solutions,” said Gerry Fasano, Leidos Defense Group president. “The Bronco II demonstrates our commitment to providing the best-of-breed in technology, as well as our agility in meeting the needs of our country’s national security missions. This offering will leverage each company’s expertise to deliver cost-effective innovations for the warfighter.”

“Our collaboration with Vertex and Leidos will present best of capabilities for what will undoubtedly be a critical program to enable US Air Force Special Operations Command to deal effectively with the challenges and rigors of modern day asymmetrical warfare,” said Steve Griessel, CEO of Paramount Group USA. “The Bronco II was designed specifically for asymmetrical warfare and will operate at a fraction of the procurement and lifecycle costs of an aircraft with similar mission applications and capabilities.”

In SOCOM’s Overwatch Programme, the service is exploring options for a cheap, light attack and reconnaissance aircraft to provide ground attack and close air support to US special forces operations particularly during counter-insurgency operations. SOCOM revealed in February this year that it plans to acquire 75 light attack aircraft for that purpose. The command will budget $101 million for the first batch with another $10 million per year for the next seven years.

South African AHRLAC rebranded

The Bronco II was originally named the Advanced High-Performance Reconnaissance Light Aircraft (AHRLAC), it is a light reconnaissance and counter-insurgency aircraft made by AHRLAC Holdings, a joint venture between the Paramount Group and Aerosud in South Africa.

Paramount Group Mwari

The AHRLAC is greatly suited for low-intensity warfare type of role being inexpensive and capable, it was made specifically for the African market. It has a high wing configuration and powered by a single Pratt & Whitney PT6-66B engine which provides 950 horsepower on a rearward-facing propeller. Its top speed is 272 knots and flies at a service ceiling of 31,000 feet

Paramount Group started designing the AHRLAC in 2009, it was later rebranded in 2018 in order to market the aircraft to the US Air Force which was seeking to procure light attack aircraft at the time.

In March 2016, Boeing announced that it had entered into a development partnership with Paramount with the aim of producing a militarized version of the AHRLAC. Under this agreement, Boeing will develop an integrated mission system that will provide the AHRLAC with intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) and weapons system capabilities.

In South Africa, the aircraft is marketed by Paramount as the Mwari. however, Paramount Aerospace Holdings, the subsidiary of Paramount Group reportedly shut down its operations in 2019 due to funding issues.

Although, in July 2018, Paramount Group Executive Chairman Ivor Ichikowitz announced that the Mwari has secured a launch customer and has begun rolling off the production line, however, till date the launch customer is still unknown.

Bronco II heritage: a long line of successful unconventional aircraft

The OV-10 Bronco the Bronco II might replace was also a very successful unconventional aircraft built by the the Vietnam War-era North American Rockwell. Both have twin tail booms and a high visibility tandem cockpit, as well as a light attack and reconnaissance role.

The difference between both aircraft is that the Bronco II have a single pusher propeller on the back of the fuselage while the OV-10 Bronco spots a pair of wing-mounted engines. More difference includes a tandem seating arrangement for the Bronco II. The Bronco II also has a slightly swept forward wing, compared to a straight wing on the OV-10.

The Bronco II is designed to carry a single 20 mm cannon, which is internally mounted into the fuselage. Additionally, it is fitted with either four or six hardpoints for carrying weapons mounted under the wings, including rocket pods, unguided bombs, and various air-to-surface and air-to-air missiles.

Due to its modular nature, the mission bay and armor for the aircraft can be added or removed entirely dependent on the mission requirements, including intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance sensors, signal intelligence electronics, or cargo payloads.

The Bronco II is modular enough to be disassembled and transported in a shipping container. One aircraft can be transported by a Lockheed Martin C-130, while two aircraft can be transported inside a Boeing C-17.

Ekene Lionel

Techy, Futurist, Award-winning defense technology writer.