No, it’s not brand new but it’s still cool. This little model on display at ATK’s booth during the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual convention in DC a couple of years ago represents the company’s AC-208 Combat Caravan. Now, air force’s around the world use the already use the Cessna Caravan for light cargo and ISR duties. Two years ago, ATK began turning the Iraqi air force’s caravans into very light gunships (well, missile ships to be specific) by arming them with Hellfire missiles, electro-optical/IR sensors, laser target designators, datalinks and countermeasures. This turned the little cargo planes into cheap counter-insurgency (COIN) aircraft.
As you all know, the U.S. military has been trying to field (high performance) prop-driven COIN planes, for years. While this plane would likely be based on a trainer aircraft, it would receive significant upgrades — making it almost purpose built for the role. Congress keeps fighting the idea, saying the military needs to justify the expense of such aircraft.
Adding weapons to the Air Force’s MC-12 Liberty ISR birds could be a fast and cheap way around this. The planes are already in service downrange with trained pilots who are used to working closely with ground troops — adding weapons wouldn’t be a huge stretch. (Heck, Hawker Beechcraft has already modified the MC-12’s wings to accept weapons). Critics of the COIN plane idea claim that even the relatively quick and nimble AT-6 and Super Tucano already being considered may be too vulnerable to ground fire. You can imagine what they’d say about a modified cargo plane performing this role.
Check out the specs on ATK’s Combat Caravan, after the jump: