The US Army has opened bidding for a contract to deliver up to an initial eight Beechcraft King Air 350ERs modified into intelligence aircraft.

The competition for the enhanced medium-altitude reconnaissance and surveillance system (EMARSS) creates a new opportunity for a prime contractor to deliver the increasingly popular King Air airframe to the US military.

The US Air Force is already buying 37 King Airs, including seven 350 variants, as part of its Project "Liberty Ship" acquisition. The redesignated MC-12s are being deployed to support the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance surge in Afghanistan.

 MC-12 - US Air Force
© Airman 1st Class David Gurley/US Air Force

Meanwhile, the US Navy has unveiled a requirement for a Global Discovery maritime patrol aircraft, with performance specifications similar to MC-12 and EMARSS.

The army plans to buy an initial batch of four developmental EMARSS aircraft, with three to be deployed to Afghanistan and one reserved as a testbed. Its contract will include an option for four more aircraft during low-rate initial production.

The new competition has drawn interest from L-3 Communications, which is supplying the modified King Airs for Project Liberty. Lockheed Martin and Sierra Nevada, meanwhile, have formed a team to compete for requirements involving modifying King Air turboprops for the surveillance mission.

Northrop Grumman also says it is reviewing the army's request for proposals, and has created an EMARSS page on its website.

Bidders will have to move fast to participate. The deadline to submit bids is 21 June, and contract award is scheduled for 24 September.

Modifications to the King Air 350ER include installing a communications intelligence sensor and an electro-optical/infrared camera. The army plans to operate the aircraft with a crew of four, including two pilots and two mission system operators in the passenger cabin.

The EMARSS requirement has emerged in the aftermath of the service's failed attempt to revive its Aerial Common Sensor programme, which was cancelled in January 2006.

The army was close to launching a renewed attempt to replace its RC-7 (DHC-7) and RC-12 Guardrail King Air fleets with a single, jet-powered intelligence aircraft, but again abandoned the project last year.

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Source: Flight International