The French Air Force received the first of two light surveillance and reconnaissance planes it had ordered from the U.S. manufacturer Beechcraft to carry out intelligence missions. The country plans to operate eight by 2030.
The first ALSR aircraft, a militarized version of the King Air 350, was received on August 5, 2020. It is equipped with sensors to collect both intelligence of electromagnetic origin (SIGINT) and imagery intelligence (IMINT).
Powered by two Pratt & Whitney PT6A-60A turboprop engines, the aircraft is capable of flying up to 10,000 meters (32,000 feet) in altitude, at a top speed of 580 kilometers per hour (360 mph), with a range of 2,600 kilometers (1,600 miles). In a statement, the French Ministry of Armed Forces praised its small “logistical footprint”, allowing it to be easily deployed in a theater of operations.
While only two firm orders were placed so far, France plans to eventually receive eight aircraft by 2030. In the framework of the support plan for the country’s aerospace industry announced amid the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, a third ALSR should soon be ordered with a delivery expected for 2023 instead of 2027 as it was initially planned.
The fleet of ASLR aircraft will be “complementary to other means of information present in the theaters of external operations,” according to the ministry. In January 2020, French procurement and technology agency, Direction générale de l’armement (DGA) has awarded the Archange airborne strategic intelligence program which will see three Dassault Falcon 8X being fitted with Thales electronic intelligence technologies.