Photos, showing the MC-12W Liberty aircraft parked at the Erbil international airport in northern Iraq, have been published online.
On January 1, 2017, photos, showing the MC-12W Liberty aircraft parked at the Erbil international airport, located in northern Iraq, were published online by the Iraqi Air Force, the War Is Boring information website reported. The small spy plane was placed near the Baghdad’s An-32 transport plane and two Rafale fighter bombers, most likely from the French Air Force.
The Liberty is based on the twin-engine C-12 utility plane and is equipped with powerful cameras that are capable to see in the dark, as well as with equipment to spot, listen in on and record enemy communications. Its crew has an opportunity to quickly send that information back to base, using satellite data links.
As War Is Boring noted, the Pentagon has not covered the topic of what sort of aircraft and other equipment are being used by the US forces in the fight against the Islamic State (IS) terrorist group, but there already were some clues to this latest deployment.
According to the website, in 2009, the US Air Force got the first MC-12Ws. After more than five years of the Iraqi war, the Pentagon wanted even more spy planes in the air in order to watch for terrorists.
By November 2014, MC-12Ws of the US Air Force had flown more than 400,000 hours in total in both Iraq and Afghanistan, grabbing thousands of hours of video footage during the process.
After more than five years of operations, the Air Force decided to send the remaining planes to the US Special Operations Command, the Air National Guard and the US Army. In April 2015, the first Liberty was handed over to the 137th Special Operations Wing of the Oklahoma Air National Guard.
By 2016, the 137th Special Operations Wing was the only Air Force unit, still using the MC-12W. In October 2016, the Wing prepared to depart to unspecified locations in “Southwest Asia.”
“Nearly 140 … airmen have deployed or are deploying to nine different locations in Southwest Asia,” War Is Boring quoted an article in the July-December edition of Air Observer, the 137th’s internal magazine. “Our forces will be working across 20 countries with multiple airframes and multiple missions amongst various branches of the US military and international military forces.”
As the author of the article noted, the Pentagon routinely uses “Southwest Asia” to refer to a constellation of bases across the Arabian Peninsula, including sites in the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Kuwait.
It is possible that the MC-12W Liberty aircraft of the 137th Special Operations Wing were officially assigned to one of these air bases and are only temporarily deployed in Erbil. The same article also suggested that the Liberties were headed to hunt militants in Afghanistan.