MC-12 begins mission in southern Afghanistan
Airmen from the 451st Air Expeditionary Wing here welcomed one of the newest members of the Air Force's intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance weapons systems to Kandahar Airfield March 29.
The MC-12 Liberty aircraft is a manned special-mission turboprop aircraft designed for ISR and brings a different capability to the fight, said Lt. Col. Darren Halford, the 361st Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron commander.
The aircraft flew its first combat sortie here April 1. The MC-12 Liberty provides real-time tactical ISR, with analysts and aircrew deployed together for seamless operations and maximum interaction with joint ground forces.
More aircraft and crews are expected to join this one in the future, Colonel Halford said. In addition to the impressive capabilities of the MC-12, this second squadron in Afghanistan will provide tremendous capacity.
"The MC-12 unparalleled capability to exploit the high ground, and give ground forces vital information about enemy locations and actions," said the Colonel.
The crew consists of a pilot, a co-pilot, a sensor operator and a cryptologic operator, while imagery analysts in the ISR exploitation cell act as a fifth crewmember, exploiting information and liaising with ground forces.
Pilots are trained on the aircraft by officials from the 186th Mississippi Air National Guard based in Meridian, Miss. In less than two years, three squadrons have stood up as solely expeditionary units with no permanent home station.
It was concept to combat in 10 months and within 1.5 years the Air Force has fielded three expeditionary squadrons, a remarkable feat, Colonel Halford said.
Air Force officials recently nominated the MC-12W Project Liberty team for the Collier Trophy, considered the Academy awards of aviation. Project Liberty accomplishments included "setting new acquisitions, training and deployment benchmarks to provide a full combat aircraft squadron to the Iraqi war zone in less than 10 months-the fastest delivery of a Air Force weapons system from concept to combat since the P-51 Mustang in World War II and continuing to display unsurpassed safety, innovation and combat effectiveness in America's newest weapon system."
The newest MC-12s have extended-range fuel tanks, which can increase range and endurance.
"The 361st ERS is building on the lessons learned, successes and proud tradition's already established at the 362nd (Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron) and 4th (Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron)," Colonel Halford said.
The 362nd Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron at Joint Base Balad, Iraq, surpassed 2,000 sorties in early March and the second MC-12 unit to stand up, the 4th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, surpassed 300 sorties in its first three months.
By Renni Thornton - 451st Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
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