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ISR aircraft hones in on strategic agility

Airmen from the 361st Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron prepare an MC-12W Liberty for operations Aug. 25, 2010, on Kandahar Airfield, Afghan.  The MC-12W provides full-motion video and signals intelligence to assist battlefield commanders. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Eric Harris)

Airmen from the 361st Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron prepare an MC-12W Liberty for operations Aug. 25, 2010, on Kandahar Airfield, Afghan. The MC-12W provides full-motion video and signals intelligence to assist battlefield commanders. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Eric Harris)

WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities have been in high demand from combatant commanders. In order to meet this new operational demand, Air Force officials answered the call back in 2008 by rapidly acquiring and deploying the MC-12W Liberty.

“The Liberty program set new acquisition, training and deployment benchmarks for the Air Force,” said Lt. Gen. Bob Otto, the Air Force deputy chief of staff for ISR. “It enabled the deployment of a full combat squadron of aircraft to the war zone in less than 10 months and the fielding of three full combat squadrons to theater operations in less than a year.”

The MC-12W Liberty is a highly modified Hawker-Beechcraft King Air 350 aircraft, specially fitted to collect intelligence information critical to the success of ground forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2008 the nation was deeply embroiled in both conflicts with 33 combat air patrols (CAPS) and 203,314 hours of full motion video to support 150,000 Soldiers and Marines. The joint force needed more assistance and intelligence. The MC-12W became the fastest delivering weapon system since the P-51 Mustang in World War II, with only eight months from contract to combat.

As America currently transitions security responsibilities in Afghanistan, the Air Force is divesting the MC-12 to the Army and Air Force Special Operations Command so it can invest in capabilities suited for highly contested operations. Even so, the MC-12 will be regarded as an extraordinarily successful program.

During the 400,000 combat hours flown, the MC-12W Liberty aided in the kill or capture of more than 8,000 terrorists, discovered more than 650 weapons caches, helped divert convoys around improvised explosive devices, provided over watch for large numbers of coalition forces, and saved coalition lives.

Recently, a portion of the MC-12W fleet has transferred from Air Force to Army control. This seamless transfer allowed for no mission interruption in Afghanistan operations.

“Airmen and Soldiers became integrated aircrews in (fiscal year 2014) and never skipped a beat,” Otto said. “The Soldiers helped us meet the strong demand for MC-12 sorties; they performed superbly — we could not have done it without them.”

The relationship will continue through next year, officials said, only the Army will own the aircraft and Air Force crews will augment Army personnel. The Air Force will provide the processing, exploitation and dissemination of MC-12W information in fiscal 2015, in support of Army missions. In fiscal 2016, Army personnel will take on the whole mission.

“Conditions are always changing on the battlefield and approximately 45 percent of MC-12 sorties are dynamically retasked in flight as priorities shift in the battlespace,” Otto said. “The superb inter-service cooperation between Soldiers and Airmen allows this aircraft to continue providing combatant commanders with the flexibility and agility needed in ISR capabilities.”

The transfer of MC-12s to the Army and Special Operations is part of the strategic shift envisioned in the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR). The QDR directs a shift from Counterinsurgency (COIN) focus to more balance with ability to prevail/defeat adversaries in a high-end highly contested fight.

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