The U.S. Army is spending several hundred million dollars to upgrade its SOCOM (Special Operations Command) force of aerial intelligence collection aircraft. This operation is called STAMP (SOCOM Tactical Airborne Multi-Sensor Platforms) and consists of at least five manned aircraft and two of them are large Dash 8 STOL (short takeoff and landing) twin engine transports. Dash 8s that are popular in remote areas where there are few large airports and relatively primitive ground support. About a thousand Dash 8s have been built since 1984 and many found work with military or intelligence organizations. The Dash 8 being used by SOCOM (Special Operations Command) is the latest 19 ton Q300 model that can carry six tons of equipment and personnel while being able to move quickly (cruise speed over 500 kilometers an hour) to patrol areas over a thousand kilometers distant. These twin engine turboprop aircraft can land or takeoff on a short (1,100 meter) runways. The STAMP Dash 8 is apparently the basis for U.S. Army’s new RO-6A electronic reconnaissance aircraft that will replace older models based on the Dash 8 predecessor the DHS-7.
The DASH 8 STAMP aircraft are an outgrowth of earlier U.S. Army specialized aerial intelligence aircraft based on smaller King Air 350 twin engine transports. The militarized 350 is a 5.6 ton, twin engine aircraft called the RC-12. It can stay in the air for up to eight hours per sortie. This electronic reconnaissance aircraft can carry over a ton of computers and sensors and fly high (11 kilometers/35,000 feet) and fast (over 500 kilometers an hour.) The RC-12s cost about $20 million each and the crew consists of two pilots and two equipment operators. Some of the sensors are operated from the ground. The King Air 350 (and earlier models) has long been used by the army and air force as a light cargo and passenger transport. That model was called the C-12 Huron and that was soon adapted to intelligence and electronic warfare use as the RC-12 and later, by the air force, as the MC-12. STAMP used a specialized version of these aircraft with some different (and apparently more capable) electronic eavesdropping gear. These are used for battlefield surveillance of enemy activity, often concentrating on one person.
The Dash 8 is a much larger aircraft (and much more expensive) than the King Air RC-12 and exactly what sensors it carries is classified and apparently changes frequently. This can be seen from the cell phone photos of Dash 8s over Africa and other areas where SOCOM operates. The Dash 8 STAMP aircraft are apparently equipped to monitor a wide range of electronic communications (including cell phones) and can locate the user quickly and precisely and then track them with a
Since the 1990s several nations have used Dash-8s for maritime patrol aircraft and the Dash 8 (and its predecessors the DHS-7 and Twin Otter) have long been used by SOCOM and the CIA as transports in remote areas. In the last decade this has often been Africa. There it was common to see Dash-8s, usually under charter, delivering people and cargo to remote areas for AFRICOM (African Command, which controls all U.S. military operations in Africa). Now the STAMP Dash 8s are being spotted over Africa, especially Libya and areas to the south (Mali, Niger and Burkina Fas0) where there is still a lot of Islamic terrorist activity.
Since 2014 the U.S. Army and SOCOM have been upgrading their RC-12s and adding more electronics and new software turned that them into army EMARSS (Enhanced Medium Altitude Reconnaissance and Surveillance System) aircraft. In effect these were the RC-12 replacements the army had been seeking for so long. The Dash 8 version is a much larger and more capable version of that. Since most of SOCOM is army personnel (Special Forces) so are the smaller and short range electronic reconnaissance aircraft. Sometimes STAMP and U.S. Army transports and recon aircraft based on King Airs or larger Dash 8 and DHS 7 aircraft are difficult to tell apart. That’s often because they are nearly identical with most of the differences inside the aircraft. In addition SOCOM does not like to advertise where its STAMP aircraft are active. .