The UK Ministry of Defence has declined to provide information about a new fleet of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft based on the Beechcraft King Air 350ER twin turboprop, but a senior official says that the type is required to support operations in Afghanistan.
Dubbed the Shadow R1, the extensively modified aircraft was late last year photographed undergoing testing of its defensive aids suite over the Donna Nook bombing range in Lincolnshire, and will enter service under an urgent operational requirement (UOR) deal.
Asked about the new aircraft during the delivery ceremony for the Royal Air Force's fifth and last Raytheon Systems-developed Sentinel R1 battlefield surveillance aircraft on 10 February, minister for defence equipment and support Quentin Davies declined to comment on the type's intended role. However, he noted: "The Shadow R1 doesn't duplicate [current assets], it complements. We are improving technologies, scope and performance as the technological generations succeed one another."
© Terry Senior
Other UK-operated intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets in use over Afghanistan under UOR deals include Elbit Systems Hermes 450 and General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper unmanned air vehicles, plus the RAF's manned British Aerospace Nimrod MR2s.
The Shadow system is equipped with a turret-housed sensor pod, most likely for an electro-optical/infrared payload, and has a below-fuselage fairing believed to house a synthetic aperture radar. The modified airframe has also been equipped with a variety of antennas for communications purposes, and has a defensive aids suite for self-protection.
Davies adds that a decision on the replacement strategy for the Royal Air Force's fleet of three Nimrod R1 electronic intelligence aircraft "has yet to be determined", with modernisation and replacement options still being considered.