The Tunisian military will next year receive from the United States two Cessna Caravan aircraft configured for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions.
News of the contract surfaced in 2019, and in response to a defenceWeb query, a US Department of Defence spokesperson said Congress was notified of a Tunisia ISR contract which included Cessna 208 Caravans “as a Section 333 capacity building initiative in support of US Africom.”
The Caravans will not be armed but will be configured for ISR purposes “to aid in Tunisia’s border security efforts.”
Section 333 programmes provide training and equipment to the national security forces of foreign countries for the purpose of building the capacity of such forces to conduct operations such as counter-terrorism.
On 30 September, US company ATI Engineering Services was awarded a $9 690 087 order for a “Tunisia intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance system. This delivery order provides for two aircraft, support equipment and spares. Work will be performed in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, and is expected to be completed by 30 November 2022,” the contract notice read.
“Fiscal 2021 Building Partnership Capacity funds in the amount of $9 690 087 are being obligated at the time of award,” the US Department of Defence said.
ATI Engineering in 2020 was contracted to convert two Cessna Grand Caravan EX aircraft for the Rwanda Defence Force under the US military’s African Partnership Flight initiative.
According to Africa Intelligence, the Tunisian aircraft will be equipped with encrypted communications, a data link, night vision system and sensor turret.
Cessna Caravans have been a popular choice of ISR aircraft amongst African countries, acquired either as donations from the United States or purchased outright.
The US Government has previously provided grant aid funding for 14 Grand Caravan EX aircraft procured through Foreign Military Sale cases throughout Africa, with Rwanda being one of the latest recipients. Africom’s intent is to field multiple iterations of this configuration throughout Africa, and to streamline logistics support and enhance partner nation interoperability, both of which will reduce costs to the partner nation and to the US Government.
Africom’s African partners who already possess Grand Caravan EX aircraft include Cameroon, Chad, Niger, Mali, Mauritania, Kenya and Uganda. These countries are co-participants in United Nations (UN) peacekeeping operations, particularly in missions in the Central African Republic and South Sudan.
Tunisia is also scheduled to receive eight T-6C Texan II trainers from Textron Aviation Defence by October next year. It has four AT-6C Wolverine light attack aircraft on order as well. The Wolverines are being acquired with Mk 81 and Mk 82 bombs, Advanced Precision Kill Weapon Systems (APKWS) rockets, L-3 WESCAM MX 15D Multi-Spectral Targeting Systems and 12.7 mm machineguns.