Kudos to David Pugliese with CanWest/the Ottawa Citizen for spotting a tidbit from the U.S. military’s info-machine, leading to this story:
Canada is sending two surveillance aircraft to Afghanistan in a move some defence analysts see as laying the groundwork for a military mission in Kandahar beyond the announced 2011 pullout date.
Although the federal government has not made any details public, the U.S. army issued a news release on Monday that an American company had been awarded a $12-million contract to modify two aircraft being provided by Canada. Work on the surveillance planes is to be done in the U.S. and in Afghanistan and completed by June 15, 2011….
Here’s the tidbit from the U.S. military news release mentioned above (PDF of release here) – highlights mine:
Telford Aviation, Inc., Bangor, Maine, was awarded on Nov. 25, 2009, a $12,268,639 firm-fixed-price contract for a medium altitude reconnaissance surveillance system – Canada Systems integration and logistics support for two King Air 300 commercial aircraft provided by Canada. This effort is currently funded at 49 precent of the not-to-exceed price until definitization takes place. Work is to be performed in Hagerstown, Md. (75 percent), and Afghanistan (25 percent), with an estimated completion date of June 15, 2011. One sole source bid was solicited with one bid received. CECOM Acquisition Center, Fort Monmouth, N.J., is the contracting activity (W12P7T-07-C-W009).
And what kind of work do King Air’s do in Afghanistan, you may ask? Very low key, but important work. Airforce-technology.com sums it up in the simplest way I can find for one of the version of the King Air flying the Afghan skies:
The MC-12W is designed to intensify data collection operations through intelligence-collection capabilities operating in-theatre, allowing real-time full-motion video and signals intelligence for battlefield decisions of military troop leaders.
A fully operational MC-12W would comprise sensors, a ground exploitation cell, line-of-sight and SATCOM data links, as well as a robust voice communications suite. It would have manpower sufficient for 24hour deployed operations.
(Some) aircraft (could) have an MX-15i system with an infra-red pointer, which would allow the aircraft to signal an object or building to a soldier wearing special goggles on the ground. Further upgrades would provide the aircraft with a state-of-the-art laser designator to target a position with formidable precision.
Such capabilities have been put to good use by organizations such as Task Force Odin to hunt down IEDs and those who make them happen. After a successful run in Iraq, TF Odin is being used in Afghanistan as well – more on that at Paul McLeary’s War, the military, COIN and stuff blog.
Defence Industry Daily even has a little diagram of how electronics suites could be laid out in the smallish plane, which carries about 8 passengers in the back in its civilian version (note: the diagram shows a border monitoring plane, but you get the general idea – my guess would be there could be loads more hardware in the version envisioned for Afghanistan):
And how does this tie into the Mission Messaging Mambo?
Civilians contractors can fly these planes, as well as use the bells and whistles in the back.
In fact, such a plane full of contractors went missing in Afghanistan around mid-October of this year, and was recovered 27 Oct (ISAF statement). You can tell the hush-hushedness of the mission from the measures taken in the recovery of the fallen contractors:
On October 21 the aircraft was stripped of its sensitive and useable parts, and the aircraft was destroyed in place October 25 due to the mountainous terrain and elevation preventing aircraft recovery operations.
I’ll have to mull this over a bit, but at first blush, I think contributing civilians to hunting down and finding IEDs and their facilitators is a good idea if we’re not going to have any soldiers left in Afghanistan.
More, as it unfolds…
Update (1): More on the idea/debate from Mark at The Torch.
Update (2): Possible sighting of one of the planes?