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Forget the Drones: Executive Plane Now an Afghanistan Flying Spy

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unhappycamper Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Aug-11-10 06:18 AM
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Forget the Drones: Executive Plane Now an Afghanistan Flying Spy

Forget the Drones: Executive Plane Now an Afghanistan Flying Spy
By Spencer Ackerman Email Author
August 11, 2010 | 12:03 am

BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan With its rail-thin interior and the twin propellers flanking its nose cone like Salvador Dalis mustache, the tiny MC-12 looks like it should be leisurely ferrying well-heeled passengers to the Vineyard. In the United States, this planes corporate cousins handle cushy jobs like that every day. But here in Afghanistan, this executive carrier has been turned into an unlikely spy one of the U.S. forces most valuable intelligence assets, airmen say.

One of the things that makes it so valuable, and so seemingly unusual: Theres a pilot sitting in the cockpit. Armed Predator and Reaper drones have become the robotic face of the American air war here able to stay in the air for a day at a time, and blast insurgents with hellfire missiles. The MC-12, on the other hand, has no firepower. It typically flies for a couple of hours at a time. And its not supposed to be a competitor to the drones, but rather a more tactical and collaborative supplement.

If the Predator gives ground commanders and intelligence analysts long-term viewing, for instance, the MC-12 gives ground units more and complementary options: a snapshot overview of a rapidly changing battlefield, right at the moment when information needs change, working in collaboration with the unit on the ground. Or, to use the mantra of Lt. Col. Douglas J. Lee, the commander of the Old Crows, the MC-12 squadron for the Bagram-based 455th Air Expeditionary Wing, flexibility and responsiveness. Welcome to intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance with a human face or, maybe, welcome back.

Lee, a serene 40-year-old pilot with 2000 flight hours under his belt, introduced Afghanistan to the MC-12 on Dec. 27, 2009, when he stood up the squadron, part of. Since then, his airmen have flown close to 2000 missions. Kandahar Afghanistans other big air base is now getting its own MC-12 crew.

I count ten of the twin-engine planes on Bagrams runway, as Lee escorts me out. But thats by no means a complete figure; there are probably many more. Inside, the MC-12 is too skinny to allow you to fully extend your arms from side to side. Its a souped-up version of a C-12 Huron, King Air or Beechcraft passenger aircraft, a plane that the military has used since the 70s. To put it more charitably, when Gates ordered the Air Force to rapidly get more spy planes downrange, the MC-12 was an off the shelf option, Briggs notes, procurable with relative ease and capable of getting outfitted with the latest surveillance tech. Suddenly airmen were looking at a familiar plane in new ways.
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