The US Air Force (USAF) is to award Orbital ATK a sole-source contract to procure, modify, and deliver seven Cessna C-208B Grand Caravan aircraft to Afghanistan.
The notification, which was posted on the Federal Business Opportunities (FedBizOpps) website in late December 2017 and modified on 9 January, covers the conversion of the aircraft into an armed intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) configuration ahead of delivery to the Afghan Air Force (AAF). No timeline or contract value was disclosed.
Afghanistan already fields 24 C-208B aircraft which it uses for training, liaison, and light transport duties. In its armed-ISR configuration, the platform is typically designated AC-208 Combat Caravan/Armed Caravan, though the Block 2 version has been rebadged by Orbital ATK as the AC-208 Eliminator.
First revealed to Jane’s in early 2017, the AC-208 Eliminator has been developed for the Iraqi armed forces, but given the timelines of the Afghan requirement (a contract has yet to be awarded) it will likely be the solution for the AAF also.
This Block 2 variant of the AC-208 effectively doubles the aircraft’s weapons load, allowing for the carriage of two Lockheed Martin AGM-114 Hellfire air-to-surface missiles and/or two rocket pods on dual-launchers under each wing, compared with just one of each on the baseline aircraft. It is also equipped with datalinks and defensive countermeasures.
The seven AC-208s are part of a wider build-up of the AAF’s capabilities that includes the procurement of 159 Sikorsky UH-60A Black Hawk helicopters to replace the service’s Russian-built Mil Mi-17 ‘Hip’ platforms; the procurement of an additional 30 MH Helicopters Inc MD 530F Cayuse Warrior light attack helicopters to add to the 26 already received; as well as the purchase of six more SNC-Embraer A-29 Super Tucano light strike aircraft to add to the 20 already bought.
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