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Battlefield Illumination Airborne System (BIAS)

Battlefield Illumination Airborne System (BIAS) was a battlefield illumination system consisting of luminaire assembly (consisting of some number of Xenon lamps), a power source, a heat exchanger pod, and control console. The system was intended to be installed on modified cargo aircraft, with the luminaire assembly positioned at the rear cargo ramp area and the other elements installed in the main cargo area and on the aircraft fuselage.

The BIAS began development as part of Operation Shed Light a USAF development effort to explore deficiencies in attacking targets at night that began on 7 February 1966. A need for better illumination at night was immediately identified. For test purposes at the Special Air Warfare Center at Eglin Air Force Base, a single BIAS system, developed by LTV Electro-Systems, Inc. was installed on a C-123B aircraft by April 1966. The complete system, initially known as Airborne General Illumination Light (AGIL), weighed 7,500 pounds and had a luminaire with 28 Xenon lamps. A heat exchanger and coolant system was required to prevent the luminaire from overheating. The luminaire replaced the C-123B's rear cargo ramp entirely. The system created a 50 degree cone of light that could be itself rotated 50 degrees from vertical. From an altitude of 12,000 feet an area of 3.5 square miles could be illuminated to 0.04 foot-candles (0.04 lumen per square foot). At an altitude of 4,000 feet the illuminated area was reduced to 0.5 square miles, but illumination was increased to 0.4 foot-candles.

The BIAS-equipped C-123B was tested in support night strike, search and rescue, and ground operations. It was reported that USAF and US Army observers were enthusiastic about BIAS and were excited about the potential of an operational capability in Southeast Asia as soon as possible. In April 1966, the BIAS project office hoped to improve on the basic design and install 10 systems on C-123 type aircraft for deployment to Southeast Asia at the earliest practical date. BIAS' capabilities responded directly to Southeast Asia Operational Requirement (SEAOR) 50, which was issued on 6 June 1966. In addition, in early 1966, the Secretary of the Air Force had stated that he believed that a hunter-killer team offered the best way to decrease time between detection of a target and conducting a strike on the target. BIAS also became one of the systems considered for the "hunter" function.

In the end, the decision was made not to convert additional C-123 aircraft, instead opting to convert C-130A aircraft to a similar configuration. In line with the hunter-killer concept, the C-130A aircraft was also referred to by program names BIAS-Hunter or Hunter-Illuminator. The aircraft itself was referred to by the designations JC-130A and RC-130A. The program was initiated in July 1966 and the first aircraft was delivered to LTV Electro-Systems, Inc. for conversion by 1967. The prototype aircraft was expected as of August 1967 to be completed by December 1967.

A total of 11 aircraft, eventually designated RC-130S (likely to reduce confusion with ELINT/SIGINT RC-130A aircraft) and retitled as Hunter I, were to have been completed. These aircraft would only be completed to the SEAOR 50 requirements with the BIAS, Southeast Asia-specific communications equipment, and a backup flare-launching system. Requests to integrate night sensors, such as Low Light Level Television (LLLTV), Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR), as well as improved navigation equipment and radar into Hunter I were continually rejected. It was expected that these capabilities would be incorporated into a follow-on aircraft (possibly referred to as Hunter II). Hunter I capabilities were to be available in Southeast Asia by March 1968, while the follow-on capabilities were to be available by February 1969.

In the end, only two RC-130S aircraft were converted and both were operationally tested in Vietnam in 1968, but it is unclear how long the aircraft remained deployed. They were eventually returned to the United States and completely demodified in 1974. It is commonly attested that the aircraft were unsuccessful due to the large target the luminaire presented to anti-aircraft artillery, but it is more likely that the RC-130S aircraft fell victim, as many other Shed Light projects did, to the success of the AC-130 series of side-firing gunship aircraft. The AC-130 series effectively combined both hunter and killer functions, unlike the BIAS aircraft. Even if the BIAS aircraft had gained the sensor equipment necessary to no longer rely on visible light for illumination, it still would have had to rely in a separate "killer" aircraft.

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