The Air Force has secured all but about $100 million of the $950 million required to fund the acquisition of 37 manned MC-12W intelligence-reconnaissance-surveillance aircraft and associated ground equipment, Brig. Gen. Blair Hansen, director of ISR capabilities on the Air Staff, told reporters during a Pentagon briefing Jan. 23. The remaining funds, which will cover the acquisition of the final seven aircraft, are expected to come this summer as part of the next war supplemental, Hansen said. The MC-12Ws will supplement overhead ISR coverage in Afghanistan and Iraq starting later this year. The aircraft’s crew (two pilots and two sensor operators) will have the ability to communicate in real-time with ground forces via voice and video communications links. The first seven airframes, Beechcraft King Air 350 models, will feature an MX-15 high-resolution electro-optical sensor with laser pointer capability. From the eighth airframe on, the MC-12s will be based on the King Air 350 Extended Range design, which provides an additional hour-and-a-half of on-station time. They will also include a laser designator with a more accurate, narrower beam than on the pointer. This feature will “greatly” facilitate operations, said Hansen.
When the Air Force sets a new program baseline for the B-52 re-engining this fall, there will be “some” cost increase, because the project wasn't previously fully funded, and the Air Force has a better handle on actual supplier costs and knowledge from ground testing, program officials said.