Light attack aircraft
Alliant Techsystems (ATK)
Iraqi Air Force, Lebanese Air Force
AGM-114M / K Hellfire
AAR-47 / ALE-47 defensive countermeasures system
AC-208 Combat Caravan is a light attack combat aircraft manufactured by US-based aerospace and defence company Alliant Techsystems (ATK), a subsidiary of Northrop Grumman. 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.
AC-208 Combat Caravan development and 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 specifications
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.
AC-208 Combat Caravan cockpit and mission systems
AC-208 Combat Caravan’s cockpit 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 STAR, developed by ATK. The STAR 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.
AC-208 missiles and weapons
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.
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 own ship targeting and employment of weapons. ATK is planning to add more weapons to the aircraft in future.
Countermeasures and sensors
The aircraft is fitted with an AAR-47 / ALE-47 defensive countermeasures system.
ALE-47 can be operated in automatic, semiautomatic, manual and by-pass modes. It can be used in defeating infrared and radio-frequency guided missiles.
“The AC-208 Combat Caravan is a counter insurgency (COIN) aircraft converted from a cargo / ISR plane.”
The aircraft is fitted with a MX-15D turret, with an onboard laser designator, an internal measurement unit (IMU), and a 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.
Orders and deliveries
ATK received a number of C-208 modification orders from the US. By 2009, the company completed the 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) which is used for counter-insurgency operations. In October 2016, the US administration approved the potential sale of two Cessna AC-208 aircraft along with related equipment to Iraq.
ATK won a contract modification to continue providing contractor logistic support services for Cessna 208B ISR Caravan and Cessna 208B Armed Caravan aircraft of the Iraqi Air Force in August 2016.
Orbital ATK, which was later acquired by Northrop Grumman, received an $86m contract award covering the AC-208 armed ISR requirements of the Afghanistan Air Force, in March 2018.