July 17, 2014:
The U.S. Army is installing a 1.1 ton VADER (Vehicle and Dismount Exploitation Radar) system, along with a much smaller and lighter aerial precision geo-location kit in a Beechcraft King Air 350ER aircraft. This combination of equipment is used to track vehicles and people on the ground in Afghanistan and the multiple sensors of VADER search for suspicious activity. VADER was developed by the IED task force in 2009 for use on UAVs that patrolled roads at night looking for roadside bombs or people planting them. The new configuration enables the aircraft to seek out much more besides roadside bombs.
The King Air 350ER is a twin turboprop aircraft weighing 7.5 tons and capable to spending eight hours in the air per sortie. Military 350ERs are normally equipped like a recon UAV, with over a ton of day/night cameras and a radar. Also carried are electronic monitoring equipment. The passenger version of the aircraft seats eleven in addition to the crew. The 350ER can be used to patrol land area as well as coastal areas. The U.S. Army uses the 350ER for its MC-12 electronic reconnaissance aircraft and the Vader system is going to be the key element in a more powerful version of the MC-12.
As an electronic surveillance aircraft the MC-12 flies over an area and builds a baseline of data which special analysis software then compares to all subsequent photo or electronic data collected over the same area and quickly spots and differences, which can be examined in greater detail. This form of pattern analysis also uses data mining and predictive analysis to tease more useful information out of the masses of data you have and continue to collect. The new version does all this more quickly and thoroughly.
The current MC-12 is crammed with vidcams, electronic sensors, jammers, and radios and is called Ceasar (Communications Electronic Attack with Surveillance And Reconnaissance). This MC-12 spends hours circling an area, keeping troops on the ground aware of enemy walkie-talkie and cell phone use, including location of these devices and translations of what is being discussed. The enemy is often vaguely aware of what the MC-12 can do but have no better way to communicate. Thus the few Ceasar equipped aircraft sent to Afghanistan have proved very useful for the American and British troops that used them.
Military use of the King Air arose in the United States (where Beechcraft is located) began in the early 1970s when the U.S. Army adopted the King Air as the RC-12 and then used it for a wide variety of intelligence missions ever since. In 2008 the first American MC-12 squadron was deployed to Iraq and was very successful. Most of the 43 MC-12s ordered so far have been sent to Afghanistan, where they have been worked hard and held up well to the heavy use.