France’s military procurement agency, the Direction Générale de l’Armement (DGA), has taken delivery of the first Beechcraft King Air 350 aircraft modified for intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance (ISR) duties. The handover occurred on July 31 and was announced a few days later.
Known as the Avions Légers de Surveillance et de Reconnaissance (ALSR, light surveillance/reconnaissance aircraft), the King Air was modified at Bordeaux-Mérignac Airport in France by Sabena Technics, who installed a suite of Thales sensors. Similar to the Shadow R.Mk 1 aircraft of the UK’s Royal Air Force, the ALSR has a large belly fairing housing various sensors, with additional smaller fairings and antennas. According to French officials, Textron Aviation's King Air 350 platform provides for ease of deployment and a small logistics footprint.
In service, the ALSR King Airs will be flown by the Armée de l’Air (French air force) on a range of ISR tasks to support the Direction du Renseignement Militaire (military intelligence agency) and the Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (external security agency). They will complement the activities of other intelligence-gathering assets, including the Rafale fighter, Atlantique 2, and remotely-piloted air systems such as the General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper.
The DGA ordered the first two ALSR aircraft in a June 2016 deal worth €50 million ($59 million), and the first aircraft arrived in Bordeaux for modification in May 2017. It initially carried the temporary test registration F-WTAP, but has been re-registered under the F-Zxxx state-owned sequence as F-ZACG. The second aircraft, F-WTAO, has been in flight test at Bordeaux since the fall of 2018.
Under France’s 2019-2025 military program legislation the Armée de l’Air is scheduled to receive eight King Air ALSRs by 2030. Delivery of the third aircraft has recently been brought forward from 2027 to 2023 as part of the French government’s support plan for the aerospace sector, which was launched in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.