Sierra Nevada to Modify Two King Air 350 ISR/SAR Platforms for Saudi Arabia

by C. Zachary Hofer, Electronic Systems Analyst, Forecast International.

Beechcraft King Air 350 EMARRS. Source: U.S. Army Acquisition Support Center

The U.S. Defense Department reports that Saudi Arabia has ordered the modification of two Beechcraft King Air 350 planes to fulfill an intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance role through a Foreign Military Sales (FMS) action.  Under the $23.8 million award (FA8620-16-C-4003), Sierra Nevada of Hagerstown, Maryland, will act as the prime contractor.

Modifications to the King Airs will include the addition of a synthetic aperture radar (SAR), which allows detailed radar imaging of the field below the aircraft.  SARs may also provide ground moving target indicator (GMTI) modes, which provide automated tracking of targets of interest.  A maritime moving target indicator (MMTI) mode is an additional possibility, but has a much lower likelihood of inclusion as a part of the Saudi Arabian award.

Sierra Nevada features prominently in the U.S. Army’s EMARSS-V program, where it acts as a prime contractor.  The EMARSS-V program converts a donor King Air 350 (known as a C-12 in the U.S. military) to act in an ISR role with the addition of Northrop Grumman’s ZPY-5 Vehicle and Dismount Exploitation Radar (VaDER) – an SAR/GMTI-optimized system. Other equipment on board the EMARSS-V includes a SIGINT suite and a full-motion camera that can be used both day and night.

While it is unknown if Saudi Arabia has ordered the EMARSS-V package, it is a strong possibility, as the award is an FMS and involves Sierra Nevada, a specialist in King Air 350 ISR modification that was also sole-source solicited.

Also included in the modification contract is the acquisition of one transportable ground station, one fixed ground station, and one mission system trainer.

Sierra Nevada is expected to conclude its King Air 350 conversions by May 2020.  The U.S. Air Force Life Cycle Management Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, acts as the contracting activity.

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