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RC-12 Guardrail
Role Signals intelligence aircraft
Manufacturer Beechcraft
Status Active service
Primary user United States Army
Developed from Beechcraft C-12 Huron

The Beechcraft RC-12 Guardrail is an airborne signals intelligence (SIGINT) collection platform based on the Beechcraft King Air and Super King Air. While the US military and specifically the United States Army have numerous personnel transport variants of the King Air platforms referred to with the general C-12 designation, the RC-12 specification represents a heavily modified platform that facilitates SIGINT collection through various sensors and onboard processors.

Design and development[edit | edit source]

A Beechcraft RC-12N, 2013

The US Army Guardrail platform has supplied critical intelligence and target information to the warfighter since 1971.[1] Prior to the early 1980’s the early Guardrail variants were based on the U-21. After adopting the C-12 platform over the U-21, the Guardrail platform has mostly evolved beneath its skin through structural, power plant, and equipment upgrades as noted by the various models described below.

Initially, the US Army had 13 RC-12Ds converted from C-12Ds, with deliveries starting in mid-1983. One aircraft was assigned to US Army Forces Command (FORSCOM) at Fort McPherson, Georgia, and the remainder to 1st Military Intelligence Battalion at Wiesbaden, Germany, and 2nd Military Intelligence Battalion at Stuttgart, Germany. The German-based aircraft were reassigned late 1991 to 3rd, 15th and 304th Military Intelligence Battalions at Camp Humphreys (South Korea), Fort Hood (Texas) and Fort Huachuca (Arizona) respectively. One was converted back to an earlier configuration as C-12D-1.[2]

The next subsequent model was the RC-12G. Three RC-12G were delivered in 1985 after conversion from C-12D airframes. These aircraft served with the in Latin America and then with the 138th Military Intelligence Company (Aerial Exploitation) in Orlando, Florida, before being moved into storage at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.[2]

The next subsequent model was the RC-12H. The initial system contractor ESL Inc. delivered 6 RC-12H in 1988 for the 3rd Military Intelligence Battalion at Camp Humphreys in Pyongtaek, South Korea.[2]

The next subsequent model was the RC-12K. The US Army ordered 9 RC-12K in October 1985, of which 8 replaced RC-12Ds in 1st Military Intelligence Battalion in May 1991. One of these was subsequently lost in an accident. The ninth US Army aircraft was retained by the contractor, Raytheon, for conversion to the planned RC-12N configuration. An additional 2 RC-12K aircraft were delivered to Israel in May–June 1991.[2]

The prototype RC-12N was converted from an RC-12K. A total of 15 were converted by E-Systems and delivered 1992-93 to the 224th Military Intelligence Battalion at Hunter Army Air Field, Georgia and 304th Military Intelligence Battalion at Libby Army Air Force, Fort Huachuca, Arizona. One of these was lost in accident.[2]

The next subsequent model was the RC-12P. A total of 9 RC-12P aircraft were delivered to ESL/TRW at Moffett Federal Airfield in late 1994 and 1995, and these airframes remained there in 1999.[2]

Tnree RC-12Ps were then modified by Raytheon and TRW to become RC-12Q. They were transferred to TRW in 1996 for outfitting, where they remained in 1999. The aircraft featured a prominent dorsal radome housing a satellite communications antenna.[2]

The RC-12 in various versions to include the newest RC-12X and RC-12X+ have seen deployments to OEF and OIF. As of July 2012, Northrop Grumman announced that its RC-12X Guardrails completed over 1,000th missions since going into theater in 2011. That’s around 2 missions per day, every single day.[3] Recent upgrades and force realignments have seen these newest models replace older variants in Korea.

A $462 million RC-12X program currently underway at Northrop Grumman is expected to bring the different aircraft to introduce common standards throughout the RC-12 Guardrail fleet by upgrading all aircraft in the Army’s RC-12 fleet to the RC-12X standard, thereby replacing or upgrading all older variants. The Guardrail Modernization program extends the life of the aircraft through 2025 and introduces new payloads to the system with enhanced capabilities to sense and exploit emerging and rapidly evolving irregular and conventional warfare threats. The program also enhances the sustainability of the RC-12X through commonality, a new glass cockpit, structural upgrades, and significant hardware and software improvements.[4]

Description[edit | edit source]

Per the US Army’s Acquisition Support Center’s Portfolio description of the newest Guardrail variant, the Guardrail Common Sensor (GR/CS) also referenced as the RC-12X or RC-12X+ is a "fixed-wing, airborne, SIGINT-collection and precision targeting location system. It collects low-, mid- and high-band radio signals and ELINT signals; identifies and classifies them; determines source location; and provides near-real-time reporting, ensuring information dominance to commanders. GR/CS uses a Guardrail Mission Operations Facility (MOF) for the control, data processing and message center for the system.”[5]

Variants[edit | edit source]

  • The RC-12D aircraft used in the Improved Guardrail V system were based on the King Air Model A200CT. This US Army Special Electronic Mission version carried the AN/USD-9 Improved Guardrail V remote-controlled communications intercept and direction-finding system. Associated ground equipment included the AN/TSQ-105(V)4 integrated processing facility, AN/ARM-63(V)4 AGE flightline van and AN/TSC-87 tactical commander's terminal. Five new-build RC-12D-like aircraft were sold to Israel for 191 Squadron at Sde Dov. These aircraft were referred to either as RC-12D-FW or FWC-12D, with the FW reportedly being an abbreviation for "Field Wind," possibly a codeword for Israeli specific equipment fitted to the aircraft. The codeword "Big Apple" was also related to these aircraft.[2]
  • The RC-12G, used for the Crazy Horse system, was a US Army Special Electronic Mission aircraft based on the King Air A200CT. Generally similar to RC-12D, the maximum takeoff weight was increased to 6,800 kilograms (15,000 pounds).[2]
  • The RC-12H aircraft used for Guardrail/Common Sensor System 3 (Minus) was a US Army Special Electronic Mission aircraft that was generally similar to the RC-12D, though with the maximum takeoff weight increased to 6,800 kilograms (15,000 pounds).[2]
  • The RC-12K aircraft used for Guardrail/Common Sensor System 4 was similar to RC-12H, but with a more powerful 1,100 shp PT6A-67 turboprop engine and a maximum takoff weight increased to 7,250 kilograms (16,000 pounds).[2]
  • The RC-12N aircraft used in Guardrail/Common Sensor System 1 was generally similar to the RC-12K, though with a 7,350 kilogram (16,200 pound) maximum takeoff weight, and equipped with dual EFIS and aircraft survivability equipment/avionics control system (ASE/ACS). The prototype RC-12N was converted from an RC-12K.[2]


  • The RC-12P aircraft used in Guardrail/Common Sensor System 2 had the same avionics and power plant as the RC-12N, though with different mission equipment (including datalink capability), fibre optic cabling, and smaller and lighter wing pods. The maximum takeoff weight was increased to 7,480 kilograms (16,500 pounds).[2]
  • The RC-12Q aircraft, referred to as the Direct Air Satellite Relay, consisted of 3 RC-12Ps modified by Raytheon and TRW to act as 'mother ships' to expand the RC-12P's operational area outside satellite 'footprints.' The airframes were transferred to TRW in 1996 for outfitting, where they remained in 1999. The aircraft featured a prominent dorsal radome housing a satellite communications antenna.[2]
  • The RC-12X aircraft was a further improved RC-12 for use with the GRCS, which included expanded frequency ranges, a capability to locate signals in both stand-off and stand-in modes, and an adaptive beam-forming antenna array that is capable of locating emitters in the dense signal environments.[2]
  • The RC-12X+ was a further improvement on the RC-12X and represents the latest variant of the system currently fielded as of 2016.[6]

Incidents and accidents[edit | edit source]

On 16 April 1997, the 224th Military Intelligence Battalion lost an RC-12N and 2 crew members in a fatal training accident. The following year on 6 November 1998, the 1st Military Intelligence Battalion lost a RC-12K and 2 crew members in a similar training accident. In both accidents, the United States Army Safety Center Accident Boards listed in their recommendations to TRADOC to 'Reevaluate the ATM Tasks for stalls, slow flight and VMC.' In February 1999, Commanding General, USAIC and FH, Major General John D. Thomas, sent a senior standardization instructor pilot and the 305th Military Intelligence Battalion Safety Officer to USAAVNC to review the RC-12K Accident Board findings to determine if training was a contributing factor. They recommended to Major General Thomas that the TC 1-219, Tasks for Slow Flight, Stalls and VMC, be rewritten.[2]

See also[edit | edit source]

External links[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

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