UK to Acquire Two More Beechcraft King Air 350-derived Shadow R.1

SHADOW R1 FROM 5(AC) SQDN RAF WADDINGTON. Image by Jerry Gunner.

Interest was peaked when it was discovered that the latest United Kingdom’s Strategic Defense and Security Review (SDSR) reported the Royal Air Force (RAF) would have a fleet of eight Raytheon Shadow R.1 Beechcraft King Air (a 350 derivative) by 2025 . The current fleet consists of 6; five in service plus one trainer. The UK Ministry of Defense later confirmed that plans to receive two more Shadow R.1s were in motion.

No time line was provided for delivery, but the two new aircraft will operate out of RAF Waddington by 14 Squadron along with the other 6 in the fleet (the training Shadow R.1 will be converted to run missions). This will grant an operational fleet of eight.

Details are sparse in regards to the Shadow R.1’s capabilities due to the UK Ministry of Defense not publicly disclosing information regarding the aircraft’s equipment fit or mission. They were initially procured in 2007 as an urgent operational requirement to provide intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance (ISTAR) in Afghanistan.

“ISTAR improves a military commander’s awareness of what is happening on the ground or in the air, allowing him to formulate sound plans in an operational environment. It is a powerful tool, indispensable when conducting modern […] day operations,” noted the Ministry of Defense.

Images of the aircraft show equipment similar to what is found on the MC-12 Liberty. This includes what appears to be an electro-optic (EO) turrent; a forward-looking EO wide-area surveillance (WAS) sensor (which can be used for counter-improvised explosive device work and providing pattern-of-life intelligence). Other systems believed to be in place include a forward-looking infrared (FLIR) sensor, synthetic/inverse synthetic aperture radar, a datalink and HF/UHF/VHF, and satellite communications.

It was originally planned for the Shadow R.1 to be withdrawn from service at the end of operations in Afghanistan. However, the aircraft’s mission was first extended through to 2018 and now has been pushed back to 2035 with the latest SDSR.

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