Random 5: The US Air Force’s MC-12W goes to war — tomorrow

The US Army made noises last month about taking over the US Air Force’s new MC-12W fleet. Yesterday, I interviewed Brig Gen Blair Hansen, director of ISR capabilities, about what’s happening. Here’s a few things I learned from the interview while I continue

to work on the news article. Below is a USAF briefing about the MC-12 from earlier this year.

1. The USAF is not giving up the 37 MC-12Ws, including 7 converted Hawker Beechcraft King Air 350s and 30 350ERs, currently in the program of record, Hansen said. Despite the army’s interest, the MC-12Ws are an extension of the USAF’s core mission of providing tactical intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance to troops on the ground, he said.

2. A USAF MC-12W will fly its first mission in a combat zone on Thursday, June 11, he said. (That’s tomorrow if you’re reading this today.)  The deployment progress has been slowed by the unexpected complexity of standardizing seven used aircraft into a single configuration.

3. Beyond the initial focus in Iraq and Afghanistan, Hansen said he believes the aircraft will also become useful in Africa and similar environments elsewhere in the world.

4. When the MC-12W capability is fully realized, Hansen said, the USAF anticipates having a trained corps of 1,000 pilots to conduct the mission. I asked Hansen if that implies a dramatic growth in the number of aircraft in the acquisition plan. He said the USAF needs to “test-drive” the MC-12Ws in combat before it makes any further budget decisions.

5. The joint ISR task force once considered — but rejected — leaving MC-12Ws in Afghanistan and transferring the surveillance fleet to Afghan forces. Hansen said the idea was shot down because it would be too expensive to remove the USAF’s more sensitive communications and surveillance equipment installed on the aircraft.

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