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Air Force spy planes facing postwar cut

June 19, 2012 at 3:34 PM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, June 19 (UPI) -- The U.S. Air Force plans to cut back on the number of Hawker Beechcraft's MC-12 spy planes it wants to operate after the drawdown from Afghanistan and Iraq, official data indicated.

There was no immediate comment from Hawker Beechcraft on its future marketing plans for the MC-12.

The MC-12 Liberty aircraft is the newest intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft used by SAF in Project Liberty, which includes operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A medium- to low-altitude, twin-engine turboprop aircraft, the MC-12 provides intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support directly to ground forces. The MC-12W is the military version of both the Hawker Beechcraft Super King Air 350 and Super King 350ER.

The MC-12W has been supporting all aspects of the air force irregular warfare mission: counterinsurgency, foreign internal defense and building partnership capacity.

With declining operations the aircraft began to lose its priority role and recent comments indicated at least some of the aircraft would either be grounded or given to the National Guard or other services.

Since the MC-12 was first deployed in Iraq, U.S. forces have acquired access to more sophisticated surveillance aircraft as well as drones that can perform roles previously assigned to manned aircraft.

Pentagon officials said in May it was unlikely that all 42 of Air Force's MC-12s would be kept, partly because of lesser needs and partly in response to more sophisticated reconnaissance and intelligence-gathering airborne assets.

The twin-propeller Hawker Beechcraft planes are fitted with surveillance sensors and require an air crew of two pilots, a sensor operator and a signals intelligence specialist.

U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter indicated in May the MC-12 aircraft were part of the forces that were put together quickly under the pressure of combat. Although the aircraft have been successful, officials say that they do pose a managerial issue after the war.

Equally important, the MC-12 aircraft don't have all the features wanted in a service that will be an enduring element of the force, officials said.

Ashton said the air force would likely keep a part but not all of the fleet of "the little turbo props with a lot of ISR and so forth on them, also essential."

Documents submitted to Congress earlier indicated the administration is seeking congressional approval to have all 42 of the fleet transferred to the Air National Guard by 2014. Once transferred, the aircraft will be distributed among Air Guard stations in several states.

The planes were last reported to be at Beale Air Force Base, Calif., which also operates an MC-12 training program.

Despite growing use of sophisticated reconnaissance planes, support exists for continuing access or deployment of aircraft such as the MC-12, which can be useful in counterinsurgency operations.

U.S. manufacturers of light combat aircraft are facing competition from international rivals such as Brazil's Embraer, which is locked in a row over the Air Force's decision to cancel an order for its Super Tucano light attack aircraft.

© 2012 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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