US Military Orders More King Air 350ER AircraftAug 02, 2012 15:22 UTC by Defense Industry Daily staff
Despite all of the high-tech fighter hours flown in theater, Hawker Beechcraft’s twin-propeller King Air 350 continues to gain traction as an affordable, long-endurance option for light cargo delivery in remote areas – and effective manned battlefield surveillance and attack. Iraq’s Air Force was the first to order them, and an initial 6-plane UC-12W order from the US Marines/Navy followed in July 2008.
Former US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates pushed hard to improve ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance & Reconnaissance) capabilities on the front lines, and one of those planned purchases involved about 30 King Air 350/ C-12 aircraft for the Army. These “MC-12s” have proven to be very useful as a component of the Army’s Task Force ODIN, which has combined the respective advantages of UAVs and manned aircraft to improve aerial surveillance and response over Iraq. ODIN is credited with a number of successes on the ground, and the concept is being exported to Afghanistan. Part of that process involves buying new, updated aircraft, and the US military continues to buy KA350 turboprops for use in different configurations.
Project Liberty, and the MC-12
The new King Air 350s are called “MC-12W Project Liberty special mission turboprop aircraft” by the US Air Force. The old C-12/UC-12 is also known as the Huron, and was derivative of the civilian Beechcraft King Air 200. It can land on airfields under 3,000 feet in length, and is normally used for VIP and light transport duties. These short-field capabilities, coupled with the small size of many urgent needs on the front lines, have pressed many C-12s into service in theater.
The new orders are King Air 350s, however, a slightly larger aircraft with 23.5% more engine power, improved speed and rate of climb, and slightly more load-carrying capacity. Another advantage they’ll have over their predecessors is built-in protective systems. In contrast, American UC-12s have often had their in-theater flights limited or at risk due to their their lack of protection against shoulder fired ground-to-air missiles like the SA-7.
Taking off with full fuel and payload, an MC-12 can perform medium-altitude surveillance over a designated area for more than 7 hours, fly back 100 nautical miles to base, and still land with more than 45 minutes of fuel on board. That’s significantly less time than an MQ-1B Predator UAV’s 30 hours, but the plane can carry more gear, and has a much wider general field of view.
The MC-12 aircraft are equipped signals intelligence (SIGINT) electronic interception capabilities, and initial aircraft will carry L-3 Westar’s MX-15i surveillance turrets. The first 8 MC-12s will be restricted to an infrared pointer, which allows the aircraft to signal an object or building to soldiers wearing special goggles. A planned future upgrade would add a full laser targeting designator that could mark targets for helicopter or UAV-fired Hellfire missiles, laser-guided AGM-65 Maverick missiles fired from manned fighters, and the laser-guided 70mm rockets that many vendors are currently developing.
Secretary Gates gave the green light to buy 37 MC-12 aircraft by the end of 2009, as part of the Project Liberty program. Project Liberty is part of the Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’ ISR task force, which was set up to provide enhanced ISR capabilities to U.S. Central Command.
Contracts and Key Events
The military also lets service contracts for King Airs, but those contracts also cover existing legacy B200/C-12 aircraft. They are not covered here. Unless otherwise noted, contracts are issued to Hawker Beechcraft Corp. in Wichita, KS.
“At a conference in New York on Thursday, Hawker CEO Steve Miller said China-bashing by U.S. presidential candidates may have contributed to failure of the sale talks, which involved many complex issues. “Global politics may have interfered,” said Miller, who was in Beijing last week trying to sell the firm.”
Hawker Beechcraft’s legal representative is Kirkland & Ellis LLP; its financial advisor is Perella Weinberg Partners LP; and its restructuring advisor is Alvarez & Marsal. The Ad Hoc Committee of Senior Secured Lenders’ legal representative is Wachtell Lipton Rosen & Katz. Credit Suisse serves as agent for the lenders under Hawker Beechcraft’s secured pre-petition and DIP credit facilities. Credit Suisse’ legal representative is Sidley Austin LLP and its financial advisor is Houlihan Lokey. The Unsecured Creditors Committee’s legal representative is Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP and its financial advisor is FTI Consulting, Inc. Hawker Beechcraft | Reuters.
July 27/12: +4 used. L-3 Communications’ Mission Integration Division in Greenville, TX receives a $12.5 million firm-fixed-price contract for 4 used King Air Model 350 basic aircraft platforms for the US Army, including Rockwell Collins Pro Line 21 integrated avionics systems.
Work will be performed in Greenville, TX and is expected to be complete in August 2012. This contract was not competitively procured pursuant to the FAR 6.302-1 by the Naval Air Warfare Center in Lakehurst, NJ (N68335-12-C-0338).
July 20/12: +1. A $7.5 million firm-fixed-price contract for 1 Hawker Beechcraft King Air 350ER aircraft with program support. Work will be performed in Wichita, KS with an estimated completion date of Sept 30/14. The bid was solicited through the Internet, with 1 bid received by Army Contracting Command at Redstone Arsenal, AL (W58RGZ-12-C-0117).
July 17/12: Chinese negotiations. HBC announces that the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York has approved HBC’s motion to enter into exclusive negotiations with Superior Aviation Beijing Co., Ltd., giving them up to 45 days of exclusive negotiations.
As part of the exclusivity agreement, Superior will make an initial deposit of $25 million, with a second $25 million deposit payable within 30 days. Any definitive agreement reached with Superior would be subject to approval by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) and other regulatory agencies. In addition, any definitive agreement with Superior will be subject to termination if another potential purchaser succeeds in the mandatory competitive auction overseen by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court.
July 9/12: Chinese ownership? Hawker Beechcraft, Inc. signs an exclusivity agreement that may lead to a buyout by China’s Superior Aviation Beijing Co. for $1.79 billion. The Chinese firm had approached Hawker Beechcraft “several years ago” with the same intentions, but there are 3 reasons for HBC’s new receptiveness:
# Superior intends to maintain Hawker Beechcraft’s existing American operations, saving thousands of jobs.
# Their proposal was the best the company saw in its ongoing review of strategic options, and includes both additional investment and continuing to operate as a standalone entity.
# HBC believes that this combination would give Hawker Beechcraft greater access to the Chinese business and general aviation marketplace, which is forecast to grow more than 10% a year for the next 10-15 years.
This deal explicitly excludes Hawker Beechcraft Defense Company (HBDC), which would remain a separate entity. That would keep the T-6 and AT-6 out of China’s Hands, but the USA is mostly done with its JPATS trainer buys, so HBDC’s stand-alone survival would be questionable. Superior seems to think so, too, and if HBDC is sold, up to $400 million will be refundable to Superior. Meanwhile, the base King Air 350 would be owned by a Chinese company.
If negotiations with Superior fail, HBC will go back to the Joint Plan of Reorganization it filed with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court on June 30/12, and wind down the company’s jet-related businesses.
July 9/12: Special Mission Sales. Hawker Beechcraft Corporation (HBC) reports that over the past 5 years, markets outside of the United States accounted for 68% of its special mission aircraft sales. Their definition is fairly broad, and includes air ambulances, trainer aircraft, and even weather modification planes, which are apparently popular in the Middle East. The split is about 33% USA, 34% for Europe, the Middle East and Africa combined, 26% Asia/Pacific and 7% Latin America. VP Special Missions, Jay Gibson, adds that:
“In particular, we expect to see an increase in demand for ISR globally and maritime surveillance aircraft in Africa and Latin America as countries there look to increasingly secure their borders – both on land and at sea.”
May 3/12: Bankruptcy. Hawker Beechcraft, Inc. and “a significant number of its senior secured lenders and senior bondholders” agree to the terms of a financial restructuring plan that will eliminate approximately $2.5 billion in debt and approximately $125 million of annual cash interest expense. The next day, the company’s entry into bankruptcy begins:
“Hawker Beechcraft, Inc. today announced that the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York has granted approval of the company’s “First Day Motions” as part of the company’s voluntary filing for reorganization under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code… [including] approval to continue to pay employees, and to pay all vendors and suppliers in the ordinary course for goods and services delivered after the commencement of the Chapter 11 case. The company will utilize a commitment for $400 million in Debtor-in-Possession (DIP) financing, negotiated as part of the prearranged restructuring, to meet these obligations.”
The company’s legal representative is Kirkland & Ellis LLP, its financial advisor is Perella Weinberg Partners LP, and its restructuring advisor is Alvarez & Marsal.
March 27/12: Financial. Hawker Beechcraft, Inc. CEO Steve Miller has a blunt assessment of his company core problem: “the company is operating with a debt load that is restricting its ability to succeed.” As an immediate step, the firm announces:
“…an agreement with certain lenders that will provide the company with approximately $120 million of additional liquidity through an incremental term loan facility under its existing credit facility. The company intends to use the proceeds of this loan to fund its ongoing operations as Hawker Beechcraft continues working with its lenders toward a comprehensive recapitalization. As part of the agreement, lenders currently holding approximately 70 percent of Hawker Beechcraft bank debt have agreed to defer the company’s obligation to make certain interest payments on the company’s senior secured revolving and term loans when due, and have granted the company relief from certain existing loan covenants. This forbearance agreement is scheduled to expire on June 29, 2012.”
March 27/12: Support. Hawker Beechcraft Corp., Wichita, Kan., is being awarded an $8.5 million dollar firm fixed price contract for six months of contractor logistics services. Effort includes total maintenance, logistics for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft and associated ground support equipment. The location of the performance is Wichita, Kan. Work is expected to be completed by Sept. 30, 2012. ASC/WINK, Wright Patterson Air Force Base is the contracting activity (FA8620-11-C-3000 P00012).
July 13-18/11: L-3′s Spydr. L-3′s Mission Integration Division (MID) displays a Spydr King Air 350-ISR surveillance plane, similar to the popular MC-12W Liberty, but a technological step ahead. L-3 is the technology integrator for the MC-12W, but the firm tells Defense News that they’re working on versions built with key technologies from non-American suppliers, in order to avoid ITAR issues. SELEX Galileo’s PicoSAR radar, optics from Zeiss, and other choices yet to be announced are specifically designed to minimize export clearance requirements.
The Spydr Spiral 1 unveiled by L-3 at the UK’s RIAT featured a fuselage-mounted electro-optical/infrared turret, a fuselage pod with a 100-pound payload, a tactical data link, satellite communications, a full signals intelligence system, 4G cellular, and other options. Spiral 2 will add 2 feet to the plane’s nose, to house a 2nd sensor turret. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are seen as potential customers in the near term, and L-3 expects to compete in other locations as well (incl. the USA) against offerings from Raytheon, Boeing, and Lockheed Martin. Like Lockheed’s Dragon family of systems, L-3 sees its equipment suite as transferable to a number of different aircraft types. L-3 MID | Defense News | defpro re: PicoSAR selection.
June 21/11: Power up. Hawker Beechcraft Corporation announces an upgraded electric power system for its late model Beechcraft King Air 350 turboprops, designed to add more power for special mission needs. It includes two 400 amp starter generators with paralleled output of 760 amps, an additional mission electrical bus with cockpit control, and automatic load shedding. Overall, it provides another 190 amps of 28 VDC power for late model King Air 350s (serial FL-500 and on) as an aftermarket kit, and is available as an option for on new production special mission King Air 350 aircraft.
The company expects FAA certification in Spring 2012, but has begun accepting orders.
June 16/11: +2 A $15.3 million firm-fixed-price contract for 2 King Air 350ER aircraft. Work will be performed in Wichita, KS, with an expected completion date of Dec. 29/11. Six bids were solicited with two bids received. The U.S. Army Contracting Command, Redstone Arsenal, AL manages the contract (W58RGZ-11-C-0133).
March 9/11: 2 + LIDAR. A pair of FBO.gov pre-solicitations cover 2 KA-350ER aircraft, and their LIDAR sensors. Because of its characteristics, LIDAR is especially useful at seeing through foliage.
The first pre-solicitation is for 2 KA-350 ER aircraft, bought as a sole-source, firm-fixed-price contract (amount not mentioned) from HawkerBeechcraft under FAR Part 12, for delivery L-3 in Greenville, TX within 150 days from the date of Award. (FBO# N0016411RJQ95)
L-3 Communications Corp. in Greenville, TX received the sole-source, cost plus fixed fee contract (amount not announced) to integrate the Tactical Operations Light Detection and Ranging (TACOP LIDAR) quick reaction capability aircraft, “…to avoid the significant duplication of cost. Integration required to be completed 12 months from award of contract.” (FBO# N0016411RJQ96)
Dec 2/10: +2. Hawker Beechcraft Corp. in Wichita, KS receives a $15.2 million contract for 2 Hawker Beechcraft King Air 350ERs. At this time, all funds have been obligated. The 645th AESG/SYK at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, OH (FA8620-11-C-4008).
When asked about this order, Hawker Beechcraft said these were US Army planes, to be delivered in a configuration “similar” to the MC-12W Liberty surveillance variant. Note that most of the gear that could make it a surveillance aircraft would be delivered under separate contracts.
Aug 17/10: Comms. ViaSat Inc. announces that it has deployed airborne communications-on-the-move (COTM) terminals onboard “several dozen” MC-12W aircraft, using the ArcLight Ku-band mobile broadband system, configured in this application for data rates up to 1 Mbps off the aircraft. ViaSat.
July 23/10: Sensors. L-3 Communications announces that its WESCAM subsidiary announces a $200 million indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity (ID/IQ) contract from the U.S. Air Force. It will buy MX-15Di high-definition surveillance and targeting turrets for MC-12W Project Liberty ISR planes, and MX-20D HD surveillance and targeting turrets for “an undisclosed customer.”
The contract is the 3rd in a series of US military contracts over the last 18 months, worth of to $400 million and covering 6 different surveillance turret types. WESCAM’s L-3 parent is also the prime contractor and systems integrator for Project Liberty. L-3 Communications.
June 1/10: A USA Today article offers some useful background regarding the MC-12W Liberty program. Hyperlinks added by DID:
“MC-12 crews have flown more than 2,000 missions in Iraq, Air Force records show. The first aircraft arrived in Afghanistan last December. The Air Force plans to spend $100 million to train airmen on using the aircraft’s spy technology over the next two years, Air Force budget records show… The Air Force initially bought seven used planes from private businessmen and retrofitted them. It now buys new planes… In April, the Air Force narrowed candidates vying to be the official MC-12 base to facilities in Oklahoma, Mississippi, Virginia, Georgia and Missouri. The final decision will be made next year, the Air Force said in a statement.
Col. Dan Johnson, who commands the 480th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing… interviewed, researched and wrote a paper for the Air Force exploring whether drones or manned planes were better at spying on insurgents. “It turned out that we need both,” he said in an e-mail.”
May 18/10: USMC UC-12. Hawker Beechcraft Corporation officially rolls the first UC-12W Operational Support Airlift King Air 350 for the United States Marine Corps. The plane is 1 of 6 ordered in July 2008, with additional options that would let the Marines replace their remaining 6 previous-generation UC-12/ King Air 200 light cargo aircraft. Hawker Beechcraft release [PDF].
March 19/10: The USAF announces that its MC-12W program has completed its 2,000th combat sortie. Capt. Ryan Woodman of the 362nd Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron, at Joint Base Balad in Iraq:
“A year ago the commander and I were learning how to start the new aircraft, and now the program just flew its 2,000th mission… Given what this program accomplishes for the troops on the ground, it is a great feeling.”
Many USAF programs spend over 10 years in development, and operational ramp-up is often a more measured process, so Capt. Woodman’s summary is more than just PR.
2,000 MC-12W sorties
Oct 19/09: +6 MC-12W. Hawker Beechcraft Corporation announces [PDF] that the USAF has exercised a $45 million option for 6 additional MC-12W special mission aircraft in support of Project Liberty, per the original November 2008 contract. The company adds that the first 23 planes have all been delivered, on or ahead of schedule. See also Flight International.
FY 2008 – 2009
Sept 15/09: Price breakdown. A comment at the US Air Force Association’s Air & Space Symposium helps clarify the price breakdown of an MC-12W. Lionel G. Smith, L-3′s director, Strategic Development Special Programs, is quoted as saying that:
“It costs about $7 million [per plane] from Hawker Beechcraft, and about $10 million in modifications. From [initial] contract to [deployment in] combat was about eight months.”
July 28/09: +3. Hawker Beechcraft Corporation in Wichita, KS receives a $ 21.6 million firm-fixed-price contract for the purchase of 1 King Air B350 aircraft, and 2 King Air B350Cs in the air ambulance/medical evacuation, with cargo door options. There are also 6 one-month options for storage of the aircraft.
Work is to be performed in Wichita, KS, with an estimated completion date of Feb 28/11. One was bid solicited with one bid received by U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command, CCAM-RD-F at Redstone Arsenal, AL (W58RGZ-09-C-0087).
June 16/09: Export potential. Defense News reports that Iraqi and American buys may be the forerunner of a much larger trend:
“…in the coming decade [L-3 and HawkerBeechcraft] saw a potential domestic market for up to 75 of the [King Air 350 ISR] aircraft at a value of $1.3 billion. [L-3 VP Allison] Hartley said Africa, the Middle East and other regions were all potential markets. The international market could be worth double that in platform sales with a value of about $2.5 billion… She specifically named the United Kingdom as a potential sales opportunity. The British have already ordered a handful of King Airs for the ISR mission. One has been delivered.”
As of 2012, Britain operates 5 “Shadow R1″ planes.
June 10/09: The first MC-12 Liberty combat mission is flown from Joint Base Balad, Iraq, by the 362nd Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron. The specialty reconnaissance aircraft flies a 4-hour mission, after arriving at Balad on June 8/09. Air Force Report: MC-12 [video] | Pentagon DVIDS re: arrival | Pentagon DVIDS re: combat mission.
MC-12W in combat
April 8/09: The USAF announces their acceptance of the first MC-12 from Hawker Beechcraft. Deployment will take place in May 2009.
Dec 24/08: +2. Hawker Beechcraft Corporation in Wichita, KS received a $12.7 million firm-fixed-price contract for the purchase of 2 Super King Air Model 350 aircraft. Work will be performed in Ozark, AL, with an estimated completion date of July 31/09. One bid was solicited and one bid received by the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command in Redstone Arsenal, AL (W58RGZ-09-C-0087).
Nov 21/08: L3 Communications Integrated Systems in Greenville, TX received a firm fixed price commercial contract for $7.5 million. This action will provide for 1 Beechcraft King Air 350ER aircraft. L3 does not make the aircraft, but it does perform integration for the ISR version, which will use their MX-15 line or surveillance and targeting turrets.
At this time, the entire amount has been obligated in advance by 645 AESG/SYK at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH (FA8620-09-C-3021)
Nov 18/08: Hawker Beechcraft Corp. in Wichita, KS receives a firm-fixed commercial contract for 23 Beechcraft King Air 350ERs, with an option for 6 additional aircraft. The contract’s value is $171.5 million, and the entire amount has already been obligated.
The 645 AESG/SYK at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, OH manages this contract (FA8620-09-C-3020). Hawker Beechcraft’s subsequent release [PDF] confirms that these are “special mission” ISR variants.
- Hawker Beechcraft – King Air 350i
- Hawker Beechcraft – Military and Special Mission
- L-3 Communications – MX-15Di. The MC-12W’s electro-optical surveillance and targeting turret.
- DID – Task Force ODIN: In the Kingdom of the Blind…
- DID – MARSS: Quasi-Civilian Spy Plane Service Ordered by Pentagon, Canada. The Canadian order involves King Air 300s, modified for the ISR role.
- Aerial Surveillance Systems, Inc. – SkyEye 350. A private venture based on the King Air 350, similar in concept and equipment to the MC-12W.
- US NAVAIR (March 28/13) – Light lift; heavy load: Small aircraft pull their weight
- DoD Buzz (Oct 2/12) – Army seeks commonality in fixed wing fleet
- USA Today (June 1/10) – Newest manned spy plane scores points in war effort
- US OSD, via Pentagon DVIDS (Sept 1/09) – Gates to MC-12 Workers: Your Work Is Saving Troops’ Lives
- Defense News, Paris Airshow 2009 (June 16/09) – Beechcraft May Add Weapon-Carrying Capability to King Air