De Havilland Canada RC-7B ARLFor a number of years the US Army has operated a small fleet of specially modified Dash 7 turboprops as intelligence gathering aircraft. The aircraft were equipped by Northolt Grumman, are painted in a ‘civilian’ paint scheme and have been given the overall designation RC-7B ARL (Airborne Reconnaissance Low).
One RC-7B was configured for imagery only but was destroyed when it crashed on 23 Jul 1999 during operations in Colombia. Two RC-7B’s were configured for COMINT only and were designated ARL-C. Five other aircraft are also equipped with a Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) and various imaging sensors these aircraft are designated ARL-M.
Two ARL-Ms are equipped with the Super Hawk communications intercept and emitter direction finding subsystem and are assigned to Fort Bliss in Texas. The three remaining ARL-M aircraft are fitted with a different subsystem and are based in South Korea. The US Army is hoping to take delivery of a 6th ARL-M in 2003.
The 2 ARL-C aircraft will be upgraded to ARL-M standard in the near future. On 20 Nov 01 Northrop Grumman were awarded a $9M contract for the acquisition and integration of a replacement for the ARL-I which crashed in 1999 delivery is planned for Jul 2003. In the longer term the US Army is looking to replace both the RC-7B and RC-12 fleets with 45 new reconnaissance aircraft called the ‘Aerial Common Sensor’ to enter service in 2006, although some RC-7B’s could remain in service until 2017