At the Paris Airshow Hawker Beechcraft Corporation (HBC) displayed the Beechcraft King Air 350ER configured by L3 for special missions. According to HBC, the King Air 350ER offers extended range, long endurance, and can be configured with a variety of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities as well as air ambulance and other special-mission capabilities. The King Air 350ER recently made news with the completion of its inaugural combat mission in Iraq as part of the U.S. Air Force MC-12W fleet. HBC markets, produces and supports a whole range of special-mission aircraft for militaries and governments worldwide.
Delivery of the first seven aircraft produced for the U.S. Air Force under ‘Phase 1’ of ‘Project Liberty Aircraft’ (LPA) program was delivered on July 22, 2009. Under LPA program awarded on September 2008 L-3 Mission Integration will modify a total of 37 Air Force MC-12Ws with sensor packages and communications systems. 24 of the aircraft are destined to Afghanistan. According to Mark Von Schwarz, L-3 Mission Integration Division president, L3 has already received additional orders over the last three months, “we are aggressively moving out to deliver these aircraft as fast as possible. We have added two more aircraft integration sites to triple our capacity” Mr. Von Schwarz said. The LPA team headed by L-3 includes Hawker Beechcraft, the platform manufacturer, Alliant Tech, and Northrop Grumman. L-3 Communications has also included different L-3 divisions as subcontractors – the Systems Field Support, ComCept, Wescam, Communication Systems-West, and Platform Integration.
The first combat patrol mission flying new Project Liberty MC-12 special mission aircraft from Balad air base in Iraq commenced June 10, 2009 operating with the 362nd Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron, 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing. The new aircraft is designed to augment information gathered by other intelligence-collection capabilities operating in-theater. The MC-12 provides real-time full-motion video and signals intelligence and allowing military leaders to make battlefield decisions. Apart from the team monitoring the scene on board, more airmen are serving as ground-based crew, gathering and analyzing the intelligence collected and fed to the ground control center via data-link. The MC-12 aircraft are an Air Combat Command asset, fielded to the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility to serve critical roles in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. The platform is based on a Beechcraft KingAir 350ER (C-12 Huron) twin turboprop powered planes built to ‘special mission’ configuration.
In a recent interview, Maj. Gen. Blair E. Hansen, the A2 director of ISR capabilities and Air Force lead for the task force said, “this fight demands decisive information, surgical ISR, tailored to the level of the fight. This capability will give field commanders more important and timely knowledge to make critical decisions. To be effective in counterinsurgency requires micro information fast, to both kill or capture terrorists as well as to protect our joint and coalition force and the civilian population.” Brig. Gen. Brian T. Bishop, 322 AEW commander added: “This is truly a success story, our mission here is to deliver combat airpower and overwatch to the joint fight in-theater, and the MC-12 brings a huge ISR capability to employ in support of the ground commander.”
The aircraft accommodates a crew of four operators: the pilot, co-pilot, SIGINT operator and electro-optical systems operator. Each ‘PLA aircraft is configured with a Wescam MX-15D EO multisensor payload providing full-motion video in day and night, through the color zoom video camera, high magnification camera and thermal imaging system, the payload also accommodates a laser rangefinder, laser target designator and laser illuminator. The electronic warfare segment on the aircraft comprises SIGINT and jamming system, enabling the operator to intercept and combat adversary communications.
Training of the airborne operators and ground crews began two months before the deployment to Balad, as the 186th Air Refueling Wing (ARW) established a temporary MC-12 mission qualification training detachment at the Mississippi base for ‘Project Liberty‘. Temporarily basing the MC-12 training location in Mississippi enabled ACC to leverage the experience gained by the 186th ARW operating manned ISR experience from their RC-26 work in the counterdrug program, as well as multiple overseas deployments in support of OIF and the fight against terror.
The program was launched in January 2008 fulfilling an urgent operational requirement to bolster the Air Force’s intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance mission by adding a new low-cost, ’low signature’ platform to the ISR inventory.