The draft version of the Senate’s defense authorization bill for next fiscal year includes language that would switch ownership of the Air Force’s MC-12 Liberty intelligence-gathering aircraft to the Army. The Senate Armed Services Committee included this provision in its bill mark-up, completed last week. The measure would require the Defense Secretary “to develop and implement a plan for the orderly transfer” of the MC-12s, according to the SASC release summarizing the bill, which now goes to the Senate floor for consideration. The Air Force rapidly fielded a force of 37 MC-12s to bolster US intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance capability in the conflicts in Southwest Asia. MC-12s began operating in Iraq two years ago; they arrived in Afghanistan in December 2009. They have been providing invaluable support to ground troops at the tactical level via overhead streaming video and signals intelligence. In April, the Air Force announced that Beale AFB, Calif., would be the stateside home of the MC-12s.
U.S. Air Force F-35s and F-22s regularly deploy deep into the Pacific region from Alaska, Utah, and Hawaii. In the future, though, the head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command would like to see the Air Force permanently station fifth-generation aircraft west of the international date line—closer to China.