The global trend to increase the use of relatively simple, low-cost manned aircraft for reconnaissance missions alongside unmanned air vehicles has prompted Elta Systems to offer a variety of such aircraft to potential customers.
Sources at the Israel Aerospace Industries subsidiary say that the company's latest manned reconnaissance platform - a version of the Beechcraft King Air 350 - can trace its roots back by almost 15 years, but has now received a "new lease of life".
Elta's modified aircraft carries its EL/M-2022 maritime surveillance radar to support maritime applications. However, one source notes: "Many clients also equip the platform with a vertical camera that can see items in forest areas."
Sources say that feedback received from existing and potential customers suggests that there will be a joint operation of manned and unmanned intelligence-gathering platforms.
Using a manned aircraft removes the need to instal wide-band datalinks, as "the operator can relay targets to the ground forces almost in real time after on-board processing", one source comments. Unmanned systems equipped with intelligence-gathering sensors are also relatively slow, while a manned platform can reach an area of interest in a short period of time.
Elta's sales efforts with the modified King Air are being underlined by the extensive use of King Air 200s by an Israeli air force squadron during visual and electronic intelligence missions.
Each of the aircraft is crewed by two pilots, two air scouts and a mission commander, with the unit having one of the service's highest sortie rates.