Army, Air Force Get New Tools in IED Fight


An MC-12W at Bagram in Afghanistan.

 

by Paul McLeary at 12/29/2010


 

Much of the Army and Air Force’s intelligence operations in the air over Iraq and Afghanistan revolve around finding and defeating roadside bombs, as programs like Task Force ODIN and Project Liberty have been hunting bombs and bombmakers for years now, and finding some success in doing so.

While the Army’s ODIN uses manned and unmanned assets, the U.S. Air Force relies on manned MC-12 Liberty aircraft to get the job done, and has been flying combat missions since June 2009 in its modified Hawker Beechcraft 350’s.

As of June 2010, the Liberty had flown over 2,000 missions in Iraq alone, and has been operational in Afghanistan since December 2009. According to AvWeek’s Amy Butler, the Air Force so far has deployed 30 of its 37 MC-12Ws to Iraq and Afghanistan, with the remaining seven being used for training in Mississippi. The Pentagon plans to buy five more MC-12Ws; two for the Army and three for the Air Force.

But changes are in the works. Amy writes that

Air Force officials are planning to upgrade the first seven aircraft with a Ku-band satellite link; the first aircraft off the production line were provided with Inmarsat communications links, according to a government official. That modification could take as long as eight months, as “we basically have to gut it out and start over” to install the equipment, the government official says. Additionally, the service plans to eventually add glass cockpits to the entire fleet. The full-motion video (FMV) is relayed via the Ku-band system.

Though Project Liberty was fielded primarily for its FMV capability, the camera also includes an infrared component and the aircraft carries some signals-intelligence collectors.

The Air Force is also continuing to experiment with its Blue Devil project, which is being fielded on the King Air 90 and includes a wide-area camera as well as signals-intelligence systems. The system, called BD-1, is designed to “track individuals using the FMV sensor based on sigint cues, such as cellular phone usage. SAIC is the prime contractor and the fleet will be contractor-owned and –operated.” BD-1 performed its first mission in the CENTCOM area of operations earlier this month, and there currently are four Blue Devil aircraft overseas

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