Among the jobs to be outsourced: pilots, sensor operators, intelligence analysts, mechanics and linguists. The expectation was that the personnel would be veterans; most needed to certify that they had passed the military’s survival, resistance and escape training course, because of the possibility of aircrews being downed behind enemy lines.
Contractors would have to supply the surveillance gear, including electro-optical and infrared sensors that work in the dark, and a laser-emitting sensor that can peer under the jungle canopy. All had to be concealed within the body of the plane with retractable mounting to avoid attracting suspicion.
Another document stipulated that prospective firms fly “innocuous” aircraft that would “blend into the local operating area.” In a PowerPoint presentation posted on a federal government Web site for contractors, the Africa Command warned firms bidding for the work that African countries would be “uncomfortable” with activities that might look suspicious, adding: “Don’t want covert aircraft, just friendly looking aircraft.”
In addition to expanding Tusker Sand and Creek Sand, the Africa Command said it wanted to start a drone-based program, dubbed Tusker Wing, to search for members of Kony’s militia, the Lord’s Resistance Army.
That plan envisioned contractors using blimps equipped with cameras as well as ScanEagles, small and unmanned aircraft that can be launched with a catapult but stay aloft for 22 hours at a time, according to Gene Healey, a contractor who helped prepare a study for the Africa Command.
Healey said the Africa Command was initially enthusiastic about Tusker Wing but canceled the program, without explanation, before it got off the ground. Africa Command officials declined to comment.
Nonetheless, the number of manned surveillance flights for Tusker Sand has gradually increased. A new contractor, Sierra Nevada Corp., began operating PC-12 flights out of Entebbe in August.
Michelle Erlach, a spokeswoman for Sierra Nevada Corp., based in Sparks, Nev., declined to answer questions about Tusker Sand or the firm’s activities in Africa. “I cannot give any details on that,” she said.
The Africa Command declined to answer questions about the contract for Tusker Sand, saying it was “proprietary in nature.”
Allies on the Hill
Tusker Sand could soon receive another boost.