The Air Force's intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platform, the MC-12, is a medium-altitude manned special-mission turbo prop aircraft that supports coalition and joint ground forces. (Senior Airman Tiffany Trojca / Air Force)
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The ability of the Air Force's MC-12 to provide real-time intel to troops in the war zone could prove an invaluable asset for patrols in the U.S., the chief of the Air National Guard said.
The Air Force plans to transfer all 42 of its MC-12 surveillance planes to the Guard, but that proposal is mired in the 2013 budget standoff with Congress that resulted in a freeze in aircraft moves.
Lt. Gen. Harry "Bud" Wyatt, chief of the Air National Guard, said his component of the service welcomes the MC-12 as a new tool for providing intel on natural disasters and other events that affect the U.S.
"If we want to talk about [Superstorm] Sandy for example, it would be wonderful to be able to employ some manned ISR to take a look at infrastructure, flooding levels, and take a look at some of the situational awareness that our governors and the president need to see," Wyatt said during the taping of the Nov. 4 "This Week in Defense News," an Air Force Times partner.
The endorsement could offer a boost for the MC-12 Liberty program, which Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has referred to as an example of a "quick-reaction" asset for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The planes, Carter said, were not likely to be needed in the same numbers after the war in Afghanistan ends.
"With respect to the [assets] that we put together quickly, under the pressure of combat, and which have been so amazingly successful, they do pose a managerial issue for us after the war because they were not essentially designed to last; they don't necessarily have all the features that we wanted in a force that will be an enduring part of the force," Carter said at a May 30 event at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington.
The MC-12 Liberty, a modified Hawker Beechcraft King Air 350 loaded with intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance equipment, provides full-motion video, carries extensive communications equipment and can fly for up to eight hours. Four crew members on each flight rapidly provide information to troops on the ground and in other aircraft.
"That capability, even though right now it is deployed a lot, is a use for the Guard in the home state," Wyatt said.
Under the Air Force's 2013 budget plan, the Air Force would set up MC-12 Liberty units at Bradley Air Guard Station, Conn.; Fort Wayne Air Guard Station, Ind.; Key Field Air Guard Station, Miss.; and Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth, Texas. Additionally, an MC-12 unit at Beale Air Force Base, Calif., would become a National Guard associate unit focused on training. All transfers were scheduled to be completed by 2014.