Intelligence: Big Eyes For Small Budgets


August 11, 2017: At the end of July 2017 the United States delivered two Cessna 208B aircraft to the Philippines. These aircraft are equipped to carry out ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) missions. Mounted on the each 208Bs is an MX-15 stabilized reconnaissance turret. The 45 kg (100 pound) MX-15 can monitor and record what is below in day or night. It can also spot and identify ships and boats 20 kilometers away. The MX-15 zoom feature enables the operator to see if men on the ground or in a boat are armed with weapons (like AK-47s and RPGs). The MX-15 uses high-definition digital vidcam with an infrared (heat) sensor that provides full-motion video surveillance day and night. The MX-15 displays what it sees to an on-board operator console and uses communications systems that enable the 208B to share the video with other aircraft, ships or ground forces equipped to handle receiving real-time video. The U.S. already has Special Forces troops equipped with those receivers working with Filipino troops. But until the arrival of the 208Bs this data could only be obtained with American or Australian recon aircraft and UAVs equipped with the sensors and communications the Filipinos now have with their 208Bs.

The United States is providing ISR 208Bs for Chad, Cameroon and Niger as well. Filipino crews for the 208Bs have already begun their training. The 208B already has a reputation among troops involved with fighting Islamic terrorists and irregulars of all sorts. Afghanistan and several Middle Eastern countries have already been buying and using 208B transport aircraft for recon work and the word get around.

The 208B is a large, single engine, aircraft that can carry up to 14 passengers or 1.3 tons of cargo. It costs about half of what the more popular (in the U.S. armed forces) twin engine King Air does and is already popular as a passenger/cargo aircraft in remote parts of the planet. The four ton 208B has a cruising speed of 317 kilometers an hour and can stay in the air for about six hours per sortie. The 208 has been in service since the mid-1980s and over 2,000 have been built. New ones cost about $2 million each. Add reconnaissance equipment and training and you are still under $10 million.


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