The USAF’s fleet of new MC-12W Liberty ISR aircraft has logged its 1000th mission from Joint Base Balad in Iraq, just six months after entering service.
Thirty-seven MC-12Ws, sensor-equipped versions of the Beech King Air 350 and 350ER, were ordered for USAF service in November 2008, and Hawker Beechcraft was able to develop and deliver the aircraft under a rapid program. The first aircraft were deployed to Iraq in June this year with the USAF’s 362nd Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron (ERS) to provide ISR for ground forces deployed there.
The MC-12W has a crew of two pilots and two sensor operators, and carries optical, infrared, signals and electronic intelligence (SIGINT/ELINT) sensors. The rest of the system includes a ground exploitation cell, line-of-sight and satellite (SATCOM) datalinks, and a voice communications suite.
“We can have a ground unit talk directly to a sensor operator who’s on board,” said Senior Airman Robert Laxton, 362nd ERS cryptologic operator in a USAF article recently. “From that sensor operator, we have imagery analysts on the ground who can send out products almost instantaneously – within five or 10 minutes – to ground users and ground supporters.”
As the MC-12W fleet is built up it is likely aircraft will be deployed to Afghanistan in 2010.