For years, troops in Afghanistan have been short of some crucial assets: Helicopters, blast-resistant trucks and eyes in the sky. But with the influx of new boots on the ground, the Afghanistan theater has the arrival of more gear.
The newest addition: The MC-12W, the Air Force’s new piloted surveillance plane. According to an Air Force news release, the newest MC-12W – tail number 090623, for all you planespotters out there — arrived two days ago at Bagram Airfield, the main U.S. hub for central and eastern Afghanistan. The aircraft is part of a new unit, the 4th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron, which will operate an undisclosed number of the aircraft over Afghanistan.
Like the Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle, the MC-12W is the result of a crash procurement effort. The surveillance planes are secondhand Hawker Beechcraft C-12s outfitted with full-motion video and signals intelligence sensors. According to Caitlin Harrington of Jane’s, “Project Liberty” is slated to cost just under $1 billion; it will involve the procurement of a total of 37 MC-12Ws, plus the stand-up of intelligence fusion centers on the ground to analyze the data collected by the aircraft.
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who famously complained in 2008 that getting intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets to theater was like “pulling teeth,” praised Project Liberty as a model for a more rapid and responsive military acquisition.
And more aircraft are on the way. Lolita Baldor of the Associated Press, quoting Air Force Lt. Gen. David Deptula, reported recently that six of the turboprop aircraft are now in the skies over Iraq; the Air Force plans to have a total of 30 in Iraq and Afghanistan by the late summer of 2010.