King Airs carry ISR equipment to provide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.
ASSI teams with Stevens to outfit KA350s with sensors. Customers for SkyEye aircraft are in the US and overseas.
Sensors carried on the ISR King Air 350
The KA350's primary sensor is a FLIR Systems StarSAFIRE turret mounted in the ISR belly pod. Once the airplane is in flight and on station the turret is electrically extended so the sensors can scan the entire area beneath it.
The sensor suite can detect infrared through its thermal imaging unit (IR) and electro-optical images through its low-light and color cameras (EO). They are gyro-stabilized and geo referenced through internal inertial and GPS units.
All outputs are digital HD and are displayed on 19-inch flat panel monitors at the 2 workstations in the main cabin. Mission specialists can identify the small anomalies that indicate enemy activity.
For example, a terrorist may dig a hole in a dirt road or a field to plant a bomb. The turned-over dirt will show up on the FLIR scan as an anomaly because of the tiny temperature variations from the surrounding earth. The specialist can create a record of the image, geo-tag it, and prepare it for transmission to operators in the area and to command authorities.
Turning up enemy fighters is only the first step. Until that information gets to the staff that can direct a force response it is of little consequence. ASSI's ISR system has communications for tactical and strategic alerting and datalinking, including:
Harris PRC117 combat radio console. Ground troops carry a compact portable version that is attached to their vests.
• A Harris PRC117 (or the Harris Model 5800 export version) secure communication system to talk directly to special operators and other ground forces
• A Cobham Flexcom 5000 (formerly Wulfsberg) multi-frequency VHF/UHF radio system to communicate with most ground radio systems, first responders, law enforcement, or other onsite agencies.
• EMS eNfusion HSD-400 Satcom system for data and voice communication via the Inmarsat satellite system and supported by an eNfusion AMT-3800 electronically steered antenna
Cobham Flexcom 5000 radio box. The control panel is mounted at the mission operator's work station.
• EMS Sky Connect Iridium satellite communications system
• ViaSat Enterdyne Micro-wave communications system to downlink and/or uplink imagery to microwave ground stations when appropriate
• An Avcon Industries King Air Mission Alternator, a supplemental generator mounted on the left engine to supply the additional electrical power required by the ISR system.
Crewmember duties aloft
An ASSI King Air 350 crewmember can set up real-time, multi-location video conferencing with onboard imagery available to all the conferring parties. Those parties may be located within line-of-sight (LOS) of the airplane, or over the horizon, Beyond Line of Sight (BLOS).
For example, one party could be a ground team near the enemy that is being tracked from the aircraft, and the other the command centers involved in the conflict. The conference group can discuss the data being streamed from the King Air, come up with a plan and agree to its immediate execution, all through the communication and datalinking facility onboard the aircraft.
EMS eNFusion HSD-400 Satcom main box. It is mounted in the King Air's main cabin.
Stevens Aviation engineered the ASSI ISR installation and completed the modification package. "We've been performing major modifications on the US Army King Air fleet for years," said Jim Williams, vp for Stevens. "Also we completed major modifications to the Customs & Border Protection (CBP) Citation fleet.
All together Stevens has done over 150 such projects on US government aircraft," Williams continued. With the economic crisis of 2008 the ISR market emerged as a strong alternative opportunity, and to exploit it Stevens and ASSI set out to leverage Stevens' experience with the US government to develop a cost-effective ISR platform.
ASSI and Stevens found that foreign governments, that had a need for airborne surveillance platforms but very little funds to pay for them, would be viable prospects for such a package.
As well, Stevens is one of the few MRO organizations in the US that has the technical depth, the facilities and the trained staff to design and complete such a highly complex project.
Turkey as an ISR King Air customer
EMS Sky Connect system box is secured within the King Air avionics bay. The antenna is mounted on the fuselage roof for reception to satellite signals.
The first opportunity was a project with the Turkish government, that had an urgent need for surveillance of their borders with Syria and Iran. The requirement was for 5 aircraft. A 20,000 man-hour undertaking, Stevens completed all 5 and delivered them on schedule in 5 months.
Tasked with 24/7 overwatch of Turkey's borders, the aircraft are right in the middle of the current tension along the Syrian border, where groups of rebel forces constantly penetrate Turkish territory to escape the Syrian Army.
The Turkish King Air crews quickly spot these incursions and alert border defense units to the exact location and makeup of the rogue groups. The Turkish military views the King Airs as vital tactical assets without which the Syrian enemy would roam unchecked, creating havoc with its citizens.
The King Airs fly airspace sectors assigned by the military. Patrols are flown in SAR-style patterns programmed into the aircraft's FMS, with leg lengths defined by the geometry of the assigned area as well as specific locations where enemy activity is suspected. To cover a typical area 24/7 requires 3 to 4 aircraft, depending on the operational tempo on the ground.