More on Canada (Maybe) Offering Civilian “Ear in the Sky” Help in AFG

Remember this one on Canada modifying 2 planes to send to Afghanistan for surveillance work, possibly using non-military contractors?

Could this be one of the planes, spotted in the U.K. (with photo shared via the forums), on its way to AFG?Public records (PDF) say it’s registered to Top Aces, a company already providing “bad guy plane” services to the Canadian ForcesPublic records (PDF) also show it’s one of two King Air 300’s the company has owned since October 2009.  A U.S. news release says the conversion bid for 2 King Air 300’s was awarded in November 2009.

Stay safe, and good hunting, folks.


Canada’s Civilian Spy Planes May Not Be Around Long in Afghanistan

First, we find out Canada is fixing up light planes to do all sorts of electronic reconnaisance work over Afghanistan as part of the bigger job of spotting/dealing with IEDs.

In the latest update in the Ottawa Citizen, I dee something that causes me to think the planes, which could be in theatre by this coming summer, may not be around long (highlights mine):

…. Defence Department spokeswoman Lynne Rattray noted that it made more sense to use contract pilots. “The aircraft will be flown by civilian contractors, who would be employed on a dedicated basis, as it is more efficient than training and diverting CF pilots to this short-term task,” Ms. Rattray said.

Does this mean they’re only going to re-fit these planes and use them with civilian contractors for about a year? Even though it could be a good idea to continue it beyond Canada’s military presence in Afghanistan?

MISSION MESSAGING MAMBO: Another Factor Affecting Future Plans?

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. 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?