When L3Harris Technologies was looking to enlarge its footprint, Tulsa was a natural.
That is the sentiment of L3Harris executive Luke Savoie, who announced Friday that the global aerospace and defense technology company was expanding modification and production work at its facility in Tulsa.
“Tulsa is a great aerospace city,” said Savoie, president of aviation services for the Florida-based firm. “The reality is, we look for access to talent. We have great access to software engineering in the city of Tulsa. We have a good base of aircraft mechanics that are here.”
“It’s a very, very friendly environment, business-wise. I always say this is my happiest division to visit. When we look for growth, this is definitely a city that can grow with us.”
In a partnership with Texas-based Air Tractor, L3Harris will be installing specialized mission equipment, packaging and modifications to the AT-802U Sky Warden, a single-engine, turboprop aircraft designed for airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and other missions in extreme combat environments.
In Tulsa since 1974 and at Tulsa International Airport since 2013, the L3Harris company develops, maintains and operates airborne missile tracking systems in support of the Missile Defense Agency Airborne Sensor Program. It is a technology supplier for military, government and commercial partners.
L3 employs 264 people in Tulsa.
“We’ve been a strong supporter of L3 in wanting to put them in a position to be successful by providing world-class facilities for them to do their work, just like we do with so many other rapidly growing companies out there at the airport,” Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum said.
“This is really, in my mind, this is one of our greatest opportunities for growth as it relates to Tulsa’s economy. It’s the industrial cluster that we have right here at the airport.”
L3 is among five companies selected by U.S. Special Operations Command — SOCOM — for prototype demonstrations of part of the Armed Overwatch program. SOCOM launched the program to purchase roughly 75 manned, fixed-wing aircraft to perform close air support, precision strike, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions.
With L3’s expansion, at least 80 new jobs are expected in the next year. That number could grow by an additional 200 if L3 lands the SOCOM award in mid-2022, Savoie said.
“It’s definitely north of a billion-dollar type of a contract,” he said. “That’s just the SOCOM side. You see a lot of demand on the international side to follow what SOCOM does. So when we look at this, this is a $2 billion to $3 billion opportunity just on the production side of building these types of aircraft.”
The Sky Warden is designed to perform in austere, disaggregated combat environments with limited infrastructure. It has unparalleled range and endurance, weapons, sensor and communication capabilities for the Armed Overwatch mission.
“Aircraft like this are about doing more with less,” Savoie said. “How do we still keep an eye on the enemy at the gate that’s at the back door while we’re focusing on the enemy that’s at the front door?
“A platform like this is really, really high-tech, lots of sensors. It’s the capabilities that we used to stack plane on plane on plane on plane in Iraq and Afghanistan. We’re doing that right now on one single airplane at a much, much lower cost point.”