Although many people think Army aviation is synonymous with combat helicopters, the service operates a small fleet of fixed-wing turboprops for collecting battlefield reconnaissance. One such plane, called Airborne Reconnaissance Low (ARL), bulks large in its plans for shifting strategic focus to the Pacific. The Army has submitted a plan to Congress for rationalizing and upgrading all of its airborne recon assets, but recapitalization of ARL illustrates the complex tradeoffs that plan will require. For example, the service needs to seriously consider developing a modular sensor architecture that allows equipment to installed or taken out as circumstances require, otherwise it will have to haul around excess hardware on every mission. It also needs to acquire an airframe that is still being produced so that spare parts are easy to come by — one with enough carrying capacity and internal volume to provide options for future growth. I have written a commentary for Forbes here.
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