The RC-26B is a highly mobile intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance platform for use in counter-drug and counter narco-terrorism operations. It also provides mission support for US Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), US Northern Command (NORTHCOM), the Department of Homeland Security, and the United States Secret Service supporting national special security events, crisis/disaster response, maritime patrol, homeland defense, and the Global War on Terrorism. The RC-26B features a small logistics footprint that can rapidly deploy in support of counter-drug and contingency operations.
The RC-26B aircraft are operated by the Air National Guard and include a crew of 2 pilots and a missions system operator. Typically there is a law enforcement official or other agency representative on the aircraft to direct the operation and ensure mission requirements are met. The highly trained RC-26B aircrews have backgrounds in almost every military aviation platform and effectively bridge the gap between Department of Defense and civil authorities. This service is provided at no cost to Law Enforcement Agencies.
The RC-26B provides the platform and sensors to afford unobserved airborne command and control, radio relay, observation, photography, suspect tracking and vehicle follow, up to 100 zoom spotter scope, daylight mission video and Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR) thermal video can be provided at the completion of the flight. The system consists of an Electro-Optical FLIR camera for video recording, 2 still cameras (digital and wet film), a robust communication package for first responder, civil, and military communications, and a Line of Sight Streaming video transmitter. An extensive communications suite allows communications from 29-960 megahertz, including provisions for plugging in 800 megahertz handheld radios and air phone capabilities.
As of 2009, RC-26B employment included: following suspects to find drug suppliers, video recording transaction and documenting location of controlled buys, providing photos and video for planning ingress and egress for takedowns, providing a bird's eye view of locations, reports of arrival/departure of suspects, protecting officers on ground during takedowns, providing a platform for surveillance in areas where no other method is possible without compromise, and tracking fleeing subjects, day or night.
The first C-26 aircraft were delivered to the US military in 1989, and served in a number of roles, including counterdrug and related operations. By he early 2000s, the National Guard Bureau's Counterdrug Directorate had some 11 specially-equipped C-26 aircraft (10 C-26B and one UC-26C) geographically positioned throughout the United States, along with 76 specially-equipped OH-58 Reconnaissance and Interdiction Detachment (RAID) helicopters located in 32 States. The counterdrug configured C-26 aircraft included C-26B(CD) ("Counter Drug") and UC-26C aircraft. The C-26B(CD) subsequently received the designation RC-26B in 2005. The sole UC-26C aircraft was subsequently divested. The aircraft supported law enforcement agencies in the conduct of counterdrug activities. These assets would be of great value supporting emergency responders during a WMD incident. All of these aircraft were equipped with multi-band radios and forward-looking infrared radar (FLIR). The C-26 airframes were also equipped with aerial photography capability. These assets were approved at that time for use only in the counterdrug program. Special use approval could be authorized on a case-by-case basis for emergency support. Designation of these assets as a chemical or biological support asset would require changes to current policy, and may require specific additional statutory authority.
On 23 January 1998 the US Air Force Aeronautical Systems Center Reconnaissance Systems Program Office (ASC/RAKBL) awarded a $5,489,211 contract to Versatron Corp. for a replacement Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR) System for the Air National Guard C-26B Aircraft. The system was a third generation detector technology, non-developmental item consisting of 11 installed and fully integrated systems and 2 complete spares. The FLIR system included a Thermal Imaging System (TIS), color TV, and Laser Range Finder, all co-located in a single gimbal turret, plus any separate associated electronic units. The turret fit in the existing pod and weighed less than 145 pounds. The total system including the turret, electronic units and cabling, weighed less than 285 pounds. The turret rotated a full 360 degree in azimuth field of regard and elevation coverage above 0 degree level elevation and beyond -90 degrees (NADIR). The FLIR was able to receive azimuth and elevation cue commands. The Modulation Transfer Function (MTF) and Noise Equivalent Temperature Difference (NETD) combined had to result in a Minimum Resolvable Temperature Difference (MRTD) that provided thermal sensitivity and spatial resolution to detect and recognize a 0.5 meter by 2 meter man size target from other thermal sources or the background at 30,000 feet slant range under clear visibility weather conditions.
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