Intelligence: August 11, 2000


BIG SAFARI: TECHNOLOGY IN A HURRY: Behind barbed wire in a distant corner of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio (home of Hangar 18, by the way), lies one of the Air Force's most useful small units. Amounting to only 200 personnel with a meager budget of $800 million per year, Big Safari is a technology workshop that designs and quickly produces modified aircraft for intelligence missions. Big Safari mounts intelligence-gathering sensors on just about anything, from drone aircraft to existing bombers and transports. The office currently manages 26 separate programs involving 32 different kinds of aircraft. Whenever a theater commander has a special need, it is Big Safari which selects the aircraft and sensors and figures out how to mount one to the other. During the 60s, Big Safari managed the conversion of 22 B-57F Canberra bombers into RB-57E spy planes, effectively creating a new aircraft in only eight months from request to operational flight status. Big Safari mounted the world's largest aerial camera into a C-97 transport to peer across the border into Czechoslovakia and East Germany. The office wanted to convert hundreds of old T-33 trainers into remotely-controlled bomb delivery vehicles for use in the Vietnam War, but the Pentagon declined and sold the old planes for scrap. Big Safari currently manages the RC-135V/W electronic intelligence gathering aircraft, the RC-135S Cobra Ball missile intelligence aircraft, the RC-135U Combat Sent electronic signal analysis aircraft, the EC-130 Compass Call aircraft, and the EC-130 Commando Solo radio and television intercept and transmission aircraft. Big Safari put formations of target drones (mounting signal generators that made them look like combat aircraft) into the air over Iraq during the Persian Gulf War. During the Kosovo War, Big Safari mounted laser designators on Predator drones.--Stephen V Cole


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