The US Air Force (USAF) has awarded Orbital ATK a sole-source contract to deliver AC-208 armed intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft to Afghanistan.
The â€˜pseudoâ€™ Foreign Military Sale (FMS) contract, announced on 9 March, is valued at USD86.4 million and is scheduled to be complete by 9 June 2019. A Pseudo-FMS case uses the normal FMS procedural framework, but the United States funds the deal rather than the customer.
While no aircraft numbers were disclosed, the USAF said in January that it was to contract Orbital ATK to procure, modify, and deliver seven such platforms for the Afghan Air Force (AAF).
The AAF already fields 24 C-208B Grand Caravan 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 Janeâ€™s in early 2017, the AC-208 Eliminator has been developed for the Iraqi armed forces, but given the timelines of the Afghan requirement it will likely be the solution for the AAF also. This Block 2 variant of the AC-208 effectively doubles the aircraftâ€™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.
Although perhaps not deemed to be as â€˜capableâ€™ as a top-end multirole combat jet, the AC-208 is in many ways better suited to the counter-insurgency warfare that countries such as Afghanistan now find themselves engaged in.