Shorts 360-300 Constant Hawk
The continuing conflict in Iraq has prompted the US Department of Defence to look at expanding the already considerable surveillance capabilities of US Forces in this theatre of operations. One surveillance programme that has recently been announced is the development of the Constant Hawk airborne surveillance suite, which can in theory be mounted in either a single-engined, fixed wing unmanned vehicle or a piloted aircraft. The Constant Hawk system records and archives sensor data from persistent surveillance systems into a fast retrieval system that allows for imagery of incidents, such as a roadside bomb-blast to be ‘fast rewound’, allowing analysts to backtrack the sequence of events and then detect and identify the culprits.
To carry the Constant Hawk system the US Army decided to convert three Shorts 360-300 Sherpa aircraft. Whilst the Shorts 360-300, or ‘Super Shed’ as it is known in aviation circles, might not seem the most obvious platform for a state-of-the-art surveillance system, it does actually have some advantages. It’s reasonably cheap to operate, is quite rugged, can operate from fairly short strips and doesn’t look in the least bit like a modern military surveillance aircraft. Three aircraft were actually converted, but two of these aircraft collided with each other in Wisconsin, before they could be deployed to Iraq. I imagine that two additional Shorts 36-300 aircraft will be acquired to make up for this loss and will eventually also find there way to Iraq.
Exactly what the Constant Hawk sensors are and where they are mounted isn't clear. however, I imagine they must include a stabilised electro-optical / infra-red sensor turret and probably a small Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR), both linked into a comprehensive recording system that is itself data-linked to a ground command centre. The sensor turret and SAR are probably only lowered from within the fuselage when the aircraft is airborne, but this become clearer when more photographs are obtained of the aircraft in operation. The Shorts-360-300 will soon become a familar sight in Iraq, as it orbits over Baghdad, with its sensors busy monitoring the road from the airport to the Green Zone and other routes frequently used by US Forces.