AC-208 Combat Caravan Light Attack Aircraft, Iraq

AC-208 Combat Caravan

The AC-208 Combat Caravan is a light attack combat aircraft manufactured by the US-based aerospace and defence company Alliant Techsystems (ATK). It is derived from the Cessna 208 Grand Caravan aircraft.

The Cessna 208 Caravan is a passenger and utility aircraft developed in the 1980s. ATK developed a combat variant of the Cessna 208 by incorporating intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance features.

The AC-208 Combat Caravan is armed with Hellfire missiles. Other upgrades over the basic Cessna Grand Caravan include an electro-optical targeting system with an integrated laser designator, air-to-ground and air-to-air data link and self-protection equipment.

Development / features

The AC-208 Combat Caravan is a counter insurgency (COIN) aircraft converted from a cargo / ISR plane. It was developed under the Combat Caravan programme of the US as part of the government's effort to rebuild the Iraqi Air Force.

ATK introduced light attack capabilities to the Cessna aircraft by fitting the aircraft with missiles and weapons. The Combat Caravan also features missile pylon integration. The aircraft is easily convertible from a clean wing ISR version to armed operation.

Combat Caravan programme specifics

"ATK developed a combat variant of the Cessna 208 by incorporating intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance features."

The US Government awarded the Combat Caravan programme to ATK in 2008. The programme involved modification of the Cessna C-208 aircraft to suit combat missions.

The programme reached a major milestone within 11 months of contractual award when ATK completed live fire testing and delivered the first AC-208 Combat Caravan to Iraq. The Iraqi Combat Caravan is certified for both military and civil applications.

Mission-based outfitting of the aircraft, such as that of the Combat Caravan, is part of ATK's Special Mission Aircraft business.

ATK is outfitting the existing aircraft with networked sensors and weapons to add combat capabilities to the aircraft under its special mission aircraft business.

Some of the other aircraft being upgraded by ATK include Lockheed Martin C-130s, Bombardier Dash-8s and the Hawker Beechcraft King.

Orders and deliveries

ATK received a number of C-208 modification orders from the US. By 2009, the company completed modification of 11 aircraft, including three reconnaissance versions named RC-208B, five trainer variants named C-208B and three AC-208B combat caravans. The third AC-208B was delivered in November 2009.

The US Government donated one AC-208 Combat Caravan to Lebanon in 2009. The US Air Force has reportedly placed a $14.7m order with ATK for one more AC-208 aircraft in January 2011 for the Lebanese Air Force (LAF).

ATK expects to deliver the aircraft to the LAF in 2013. Lebanon will use the aircraft for counter insurgency operations.

Cockpit and mission systems / avionics

The cockpit of the AC-208 Combat Caravan features tactical displays to the pilot. Ballistic panels are fitted to provide protection to the cockpit and passengers.

The Combat Caravan operates on a mission system known as STARTM, developed by ATK. The STARTM provides reconnaissance and fire control capabilities for the mission crew during day as well as night.

The mission system includes a compact motor protection unit (MPU), an Avedon 18" color display and an integrated fire control system.

Missiles / weapons

The AC-208 is fitted with either AGM-114M or AGM-114K Hellfire Missile. The AGM-114 is an air-to-surface missile developed principally for anti-armour use.

The AGM-114M is laser-guided. It features a blast fragmentation / incendiary warhead. The AGM-114K is guided by a fire and forget Millimeter wave radar and has a tandem-shaped charge high explosive anti-tank warhead. Both the missiles have a range of 8,000m.

The integrated targeting and fire control system enables ownship targeting and employment of weapons. ATK is planning to add more weapons to the aircraft in future.

Countermeasures / sensors

The aircraft is fitted with a AAR-47 / ALE-47 defensive countermeasures system.

"The AC-208 Combat Caravan is a counter insurgency (COIN) aircraft converted from a cargo / ISR plane."

The ALE-47 can be operated in four modes, namely automatic, semiautomatic, manual and by-pass. It can be used in defeating infrared and radio-frequency guided missiles.

The aircraft is fitted with MX-15D turret with onboard laser designator, internal measurement unit (IMU) and microcontroller unit. The turret can accommodate up to six sensors.

The aircraft supports very high frequency (VHF) and ultra high frequency (UHF) communications. It is available with BMS A/G and A/A data links, as well as other data links. The off-board data links enable full motion video to be sent to ground stations or other aircraft.

The AC-208 features a single PT6 class turboprop engine from Pratt & Whitney. It is a small engine with a power of 675shp.

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