Tusker Sand is a manned airborne intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) platform, along with an associated intelligence fusion cell designed to address emerging theater collection requirements and command strategy to build partner nation capacity. The Tusker Sand system is capable of gathering various types of intelligence. The system is designed for persistent surveillance. The Tusker Sand system consists of a pair of contractor-owned/contractor-operated Beechcraft King Air aircraft (C-12 equivalent), with at least one of the aircraft being fitted with the Jungle Advanced Under Dense-Vegetation Imaging Technology (JAUDIT) system. The aircraft have other sensors as well.
On 17 May 2010, US Africa Command (AFRICOM) announced a presolicitation for Africa Command ISR Initiative Operations (Aii Ops) contract. The Tusker Sand program was a component of this larger initiative. The proposed Tusker Sand team would consist of at least 14 personnel. The sensor package would include electro-optical and infrared full motion video components, laser range finder, as well as, Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR), Hyperspectral (HSI), Synthetic-Aperture Radar (SAR), and other sensors as appropriate. Data transfer and related systems would be provided, along with a ground control/intelligence fusion element. The system was to be mounted on a manned aircraft, and the contract stated that AFRICOM preferred the Pilatus PC-12/47 aircraft. The platform would be contractor-owned/contractor operated.
On 25 June 2010, the Aii Ops contract was delayed indefinitely. Tusker Sand continued as a separate program. The selected contractor reportedly used a Beechcraft King Air aircraft (C-12 equivalent) instead of the preferred type stated in the contract. Other similar programs utilized various types of aircraft, so it is possible that more than one type was in use. A signals intelligence (SIGINT) capability was also reportedly added to the system.
The Tusker Sand system was deployed to the AFRICOM area of operations, flying out of Entebbe, Uganda. There the aircraft conducted missions over the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and South Sudan (prior to declaring independence July 2011, this area was just the southern part of Sudan). With the start of Operation Observant Compass, the US operation to counter the Lord's Resistance Army, in late 2011, the Tusker Sand aircraft were tasked to provide support to that mission. The aircraft had been deployed to the region prior to that, as part of an agreement with the US to provide intelligence support to the Uganda People's Defense Force. That agreement had been existence at least since 2009, with the US providing assistance through the Kampala Combined Intelligence Fusion Center.
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