The U.S. Air Force is sending a
dozen manned reconnaissance aircraft to Afghanistan next year. There are twin
engine RC-12 aircraft that will provide the same service as a UAV (full motion
video) in addition to electronic monitoring (radio, cell phone, etc.). The air
force is converting 37 RC-12s for this duty as, in effect, a Predator UAV
replacement. The UAVs cannot be manufactured fast enough to supply battlefield
needs, so the manned RC-12s will help fill the gap.
The RC-12 is
a militarized version of the Beech King Air. The army began using the RC-12 in
the 1970s, and has been seeking a replacement for the last few years. But even
now, the RC-12 is suitable for use as a Predator substitute. It's a 5.6 ton
aircraft that, as a UAV replacement, carries only the two pilots. The sensors
are operated from the ground. This enables the RC-12 to stay in the air for
about seven hours per sortie. Not quite
what the Predator can do (about twice the time per sortie), but good enough to
help fill the demand.
the UAVs like Predator have proved to be a critical weapon in fighting the
Taliban. These aircraft can cover a lot of ground, and stay with any group of
armed men they spot. This is crucial, as it makes it possible for bombers
and/or ground troops to intercept. Naturally, a few smart bombs neutralize the
Taliban group (often 50-100 armed men in pickup trucks, or even moving cross
country on foot.) You want the ground troops to show up to pick over the bodies
for IDs and documents. That kind of intelligence is very valuable in keeping
track of who is involved, before they hit the road.