There has been massive interest by nations in recent years in the ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) geared King Air. From the United States to Nigeria, multiple countries have purchased the craft for surveillance operations. Recently, the French Directorate General of Armaments (DGA) announced they had contracted Sabena Technics and Thales to supply the French Air Force with light aircraft for surveillance and reconnaissance missions. The company will deliver two aircraft, each consisting of a Beechcraft King Air 350 airframe and stations prepped for special missions and information gathering and processing.
According to DGA’s statement, the King Air will be equipped with various payloads for the gathering of signals intelligence (SIGINT) and original intelligence imagery (IMINT).
The aircraft will be operated by the French Air Force on behalf of the nation’s military intelligence and will provide additional intelligence-gathering with respect to MALE drones. Benefits include the ability to run intelligence and surveillance missions with a low-logistical footprint. Being King Air, the aircraft are also easily deployable. The large, pressurized cabin and fuel-efficient turboprop power plants are ideal for aerial surveying. The craft will be fitted with aerial survey sensors including digital mapping products, LIDAR and multi and hyper-spectral cameras.
According to the contract, the first system will be delivered in 2018 with the second in 2019. France is planning to replace its current main intelligence gathering aircraft, the C-160 Transall, with a larger aircraft soon. The King Air’s will serve as an interim replacement until the larger aircraft is acquired.