Code name alert: Is Liberty Ship a new Big Safari?

The US Army has Constant Hawk. The US Marine Corps has AngelFire. Somebody has something called Highlighter.

What the heck are they?

Constant Hawk, Angel Fire and Highlighter are the names of manned,light aircraft that have been invented since the Iraqi occupation began tofight against the scourge of improvised explosive devices.

Public details vary greatly for each of these semi-classifiedaircraft programs. Thanks to funding and turf wars, we know quite a bit aboutConstant Hawk (a modified Shorts C-23B Sherpa) and Angel Fire. [USA Todayarticle is here. Great analysis by is here.]


The US Army Material Command was even generous enough topost a photo of Constant Hawk on their Flickr page.

All I know about Highlighter is that it was invented by theJoint IED Defeat Organization (JIEDDO), and it is an aircraft. (Dear Montgomery Meigs, Thank you for disclosing Highlighter’s existence in acommentary you wrote to “correct” a critical Marine Corps Times editorial onApril 16, 2007.)

We may — finally — have a clue about how all of these ideas wereinvented.

It could be a project office embedded in the Office of theSecretary of Defense [OSD] called “Liberty Ship”.

Perhaps modelled on the USAir Force’s famed Big Safari project office in Dayton, Ohio,OSD may be using Liberty Ship to skirt around the traps and tripwires of themilitary’s acquisition system.

The code word Liberty Ship was first mentioned in a publicforum earlier this week by General Norton Schwartz, OSD’s nominee to become thenext USAF chief of staff.

Before his nomination hearing, the Senate armed servicescommittee posed written questions to Schwartz, including one query about how hewould address the shortfall of spy aircraft in Iraq.

Schwartz replied in writing:

By increasing thenumber of MQ-9 vehicles, pursuing the “Liberty Ship” construct for acquisitionof more “light” manned ISR aircraft, and accelerating the development of theWide Area Airborne Surveillance sensor system, the Air Force is working veryhard to get more ISR capability to the combatant commanders in support ofon-going operations. If confirmed, this will have my personal attention fromday one.”

For background, here’s an excerpt from the Senate armedservices report published in May on the fiscal 2009 defense budget request.

“The Army Constant Hawk and Marine Corps Angel Fire systemsare current examples of wide-area collection systems. The DOD leadershiprequested funds for the Air Force to acquire a combined, enhanced system,currently called Wide-Area Airborne Surveillance (WAAS), to image a larger areathan Constant Hawk or Angel Fire, enable night operations, real-time support toground forces, provide a forensic capability, and support many simultaneoustargeting and surveillance missions. It could cue and hand off targets to [full motion video] platforms for prosecution.”

Liberty is not a common prefix for a code name. According to William Arkin’s Code Names reference book, there are only two other known Liberty prefix’s in the Pentagon’s classified lexicon:


  1. Liberty Shield, a Department of Homeland Security operation to increase security at the nation’s critical infrastructure
  2. Libertycap, a National Security Agency program to standardize all signals intelligence software

Clearly, these code names — Angel Fire, Highlighter, Constant Hawk, Liberty Ship — are the barest glimpse into the massive, multi-billion dollar and ambiguous effort to thwart the threat of IED attacks. I can’t wait to read the book someday.

[[PS: Don't forget Hunter Green Dart!]]


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