Curtain Goes Up on Project Liberty

The Air Force plans to have the first of its newly acquired MC-12W intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance aircraft deployed to Southwest Asia by April, Brig. Gen. Blair Hansen, director of ISR capabilities on the Air Staff, told reporters in the Pentagon Friday. (Hansen’s briefing slides) The concept for these manned, medium-altitude platforms—which are known as Liberty Project Aircraft—came out of the Office of the Secretary of Defense ISR task force last year as a means to quickly bolster the overhead ISR assets already in Afghanistan and Iraq and, in particular, to relieve the heavy burden being placed upon on MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles in the war theater. LPA will specifically address the warfighter’s demand for greater full-motion-video and signals intelligence coverage. Planned is a fleet of 37 aircraft. The first seven are based on the King Air 350 model, and the remaining 30 airframes on the King Air 350 Extended Range variant. All 37 aircraft are expected to be in the Air Force’s hands by year’s end, Hansen said. There will be two operational squadrons of 15 aircraft each and seven assets used stateside for training. The first eight LPA are used airframes undergoing modification. The remainder will be new airframes. (For more on the ISR burden, read High Stress Numbers Game)