Niger recently revealed that it had spent $13.5 million to buy a reconnaissance aircraft. That’s a high price to do something many other countries are doing for a lot less money. For example Afghanistan and several Middle Eastern countries have been buying Cessna Caravan 208B transport aircraft for this recon function. The 208B is a large, single engine, aircraft that can carry up to 14 passengers or 1.3 tons of cargo. It costs about half of what the more popular (in the U.S. armed forces) twin engine King Air does and is already popular as a passenger/cargo aircraft in remote parts of the planet. The four ton 208B has a cruising speed of 317 kilometers an hour and can stay in the air for about six hours per sortie. The 208 has been in service since the mid-1980s and over 2,000 have been built. New ones cost about $2 million each. Add reconnaissance equipment and training and you are still under $5 million.
The King Air 350 is a 5.6 ton, twin engine aircraft that has been used by the military for decades. It can fly higher (11 kilometers/35,000 feet) and is faster (over 500 kilometers an hour, versus 215) than UAVs like Predator or aircraft like the 208B. Fully equipped with cameras and electronic monitoring gear a King Air could cost over $12 million.
Niger has been hosting American UAVs and small recon aircraft (like the King Air) for over a year now and has been acquiring familiarity with the equipment and what it can do. It seems likely that Niger went with the more expensive option, if only because they had seen close-up how it works.