So what makes L-3 mission integration the best choice for implementing an ISR conversion of the King Air twin-turboprop? No fewer than six U.S. companies are staking a claim, including airframer Hawker Beechcraft, whose offering is parked right next to the L-3 SPYDR in the static park here.
According to Greg Smith of L-3, it is the company’s unrivaled experience of systems integration. Under various ownerships over the past 60 years, the Greenville, Texas-based outfit has converted no fewer than 125 types–a total of more than 15,000 aircraft. It is probably best known for the U.S. Air Force RC-135 Rivet Joint and Combat Sent SIGINT conversions. It employs 1,500 engineers with hard-won experience of making sensors work together. “This is rocket science–and we’ve got it figured out!” he told AIN.
By way of proof, he offers Project Liberty, the company’s quick-reaction program for the U.S. Air Force that developed and delivered 37 King Air 350ERs for service over Iraq and Afghanistan from 2009. These aircraft are designated MC-12W, and they carry a Wescam Mx-15 EO/IR video sensor and a SIGINT suite. According to Smith, the trick is to integrate these two types of sensor in an automated mission management system so that they can cross-cue. “If they don’t work together, things don’t work out,” he said.
L-3 Mission Integration is completing a further five MC-12Ws. It has also delivered nine of an eventual 14 King Airs that it is operating under contract for another customer Smith declined to identify.
The SPYDR aircraft here is similar to the MC-12W, but Smith claims that L-3 is unique in being both sensor and platform-agnostic. “We are ready to partner in-country to meet specific requirements, using different sensors” he said. In fact, substitution of the SIGINT system may become necessary if the U.S. does not permit wide export of the company’s Rio suite which features added UHF scan capability.
L-3 has already agreed to add the Selex Galileo PicoSAR AESA radar to the SPYDR demonstrator. Moreover, it will install a second Wescam sensor ball in an extended nose. The additions will be done by next April, in time for a second round of customer demonstrations. The aircraft here was recently demonstrated in South Africa, where it was touted as a low-cost maritime patrol aircraft.
As for alternative platforms, L-3 has been talking to Bombardier about an ISR version of the Q400 turboprop airliner.