ISR for the Cheap

Cessna 206 StationAir equipped for ISR. Textron picture.

SHAH ALAM: IN the months after the Lahad Datu incident, Malaysian Defence ran several posts on ISR for the Cheap. Among the possible choices were the armed Cessna Caravan and AT-802 armed crop duster. This was in response to announcements made for the need of better intelligence and firepower.

Apparently I was wrong about Caravan and AT-802. There is even a cheaper ISR plane available for the Armed Forces. The aircraft is the Cessna 206H Stationair, the bigger version of the Cessna Skyhawk better known as 172.

Cessna 206 StationAir. Textron picture.
Cessna 206 StationAir. Textron picture.

The first known military user of the ISR configured Cessna 206 is the Mexican AIr Force. A Janes report stated “The Mexican Air Force has selected the Cessna 206H Stationair to fulfill a requirement for 12 tactical intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) platforms, it was disclosed by a May 2015 investment project document that was published by the country’s Ministry of the Treasury and Public Finance in late August.

An Iraqi air force AC-208 Cessna Caravan launches a Hellfire missile at a target on the Azizyah Training Range, south of Baghdad, in early November 2010. The Iraqi airmen destroyed the target with a single shot in their second-ever launch of a Hellfire missile.
An Iraqi air force AC-208 Cessna Caravan launches a Hellfire missile at a target on the Azizyah Training Range, south of Baghdad, in early November 2010.

The document states that the air force intends to use the forward-looking, infrared-equipped aircraft for tracking and interception operations in direct support of ground troops. The 206Hs will operate as part of the Air Surveillance Squadron Command Post (PM-EVA, or Puesto de Mando del Escuadrón de Vigilancia Aérea) based at BAM-1 Santa Lucia airbase in Mexico State, but are usually deployed to Cozumel in Quintana Roo and Hermosillo, Sonora.

The report also stated that the cost of the Stationair with the ISR kit.

“The document states that the Cessna 206H Stationair was selected on the basis of cost, adding that at USD325,000 per unit, plus USD287,000 for the surveillance package, presented the lowest price at USD612,000 each (compared with USD916,000 and USD845,000 for the Cessna Corvalis TTx and the Diamond DA50 Super Star alternatives). Procurement of the surveillance package will take place later in 2015, with deliveries of the ISR-configured Cessnas scheduled to begin in 2016 and run through to the end of 2017. The Cessna 206H is expected to remain in service with the Mexican Air Force until 2042.”.

Based on the above, it appears that the cost of a single ISR Stationair is US$612,000 or RM2.63 million. Compare that to the Cessna Caravan and the AT-802. A basic unmodified Cessna Caravan costs around US1.8 million (RM8 million) while the AT-802 costs around RM42 million per plane.

Going by the Mexican example, if we were to choose the Stationair, 12 aircraft would cost around RM20 million (probably RM30 million once the agents got in the mix). It is cheaper as not all of the aircraft are fitted with the ISR equipment as six will be used for basic flight training.

Pilatus PC 7 Mk II M50-08 of Pulatibang 1 landing at Subang on Aug 31, 2015.
Pilatus PC 7 Mk II M50-08 of Pulatibang 1 landing at Subang on Aug 31, 2015.

It will be cheaper than conducting ab-initio training on the Pilatus PC-7s either Mk 1s or IIs. Of course the 206s aircraft are too small to be armed with anything other than small arms. Even the current favourite, the Gatling gun is too big for the Stationair.

Apart from buying new planes, another way to break the log jam in ISR capability is to install the ISR equipment on the soon to be retired Mk 1s. It may well be the only option we have in the current economic environment.

— Malaysian Defence.

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About Marhalim Abas 2184 Articles
Shah Alam


  1. How bout the Textron AirLand Scorpion

    I guess you missed the point about cheap. The Scorpion will be cheap when compared to the MRCA contenders but definitely bloody expensive compared to the 206, Caravan and the Air Tractor.

  2. Like the idea of a functional yet cheap ISR aircraft for Sabah, especially giving a new life to the soon to be retire MK-1. Some 3 years have past since the Lahat Datu incident, nothing solid came out on the use of this light ISR plane. Maybe the idea is not sexy enough to be consider?

    Not sexy and did not come from us..

  3. The Textron Airland Scorpion might be expensive and i can only see it being suitable only as future replacements for the F-5E and the Hawks in RMAF. Super Tucanos might be a good choices tough. But if it is for ISR, why not UAVs? I don\’t think we can get Predators or Reapers but TAI Anka and Denel Dynamics Bateleur might be possible though. It got the right endurance and possibly armed version in development. The Iranians UCAVs might also be available in the international market soon.

  4. Any news bout the heavy lift heli for the army?

    Nothing yet. Of course I will update it once I got it.

  5. Texron scorpion?

    It costs 20-25mil Usd. It is relatively cheap, but when you realise that you could get a KAI t-50 golden eagle for that price, and what the scorpion does could be done with a cessna caravan or a pilatus pc-12, it does not seem to be value for money after all…

  6. The quickest way to have ISR assets is to equip the pc-7 mk1 or mk2 with airborne technologies S.C.A.R Pod (Google this). A plug and play system that was initially designed for pc-9 (an aircraft with airframe same as pc-7 mk2). Low cost, with no modification needed to the aircraft whatever. Pod control is through a joystick linked through short range wifi, so no wiring modification is needed. The pod could also be equipped with downlink systems to share real time video/data with ground/naval units.

    One of my favourite low cost ISR platform is the tecnam mma (Google this too). A low cost small twin engined aircraft with 6h endurance, engine running on normal car ron 95 petrol with flir pod, satellite uplink/downlinks and other equipments.

  7. How about endurance n safety?. The caravan n the pilatus pc 12 are proven n hascan endurance of 8 to 9 hours. What about the cheaper cessna please?

    Around six hours in normal conditions, probably five in real life

  8. What a sengkek nation we have turned into. Too sengkek that we have to look into the very cheap options for our defence. Alas, better still than nothing at all. Tiada rotan akar pun berguna.

    The option in the above is mine alone. Relax, if we get them it will be the among the most expensive ISR asset available not some cheap ones.

  9. Yea…you can give all the lists that you want but the most important consideration is do they have the amour. Never under estimate the enemy. The Americans had their share of casualties when their heavily armored helos and planes were dropping like flies to the Iraqi’s anti-aircraft’s gun and even to a farmers rifle.. honestly I think they will just stick to the Hornet for a while.

    I mentioned border patrol ie Malaysia/Thai border and even Sarawak/Kalimantan border and even ESSCOM. Using a FLIR meant that the aircraft can stay at 1500 metres, which is above the range of the most small arms including RPGs. Moreover the last time I look no one is shooting back.

    No, they were not dropping like flies during both Iraq’s war.

  10. I read that the army air wings will be transferred to Labuan? Is it valid?

    Where are you reading this?

  11. Prefer Tecnam P2006t MRI aircraft, much military look, dual engine, and come with complete ISR packages Selex seaspray 5000 AESA search radar and FLIR and AIS. cost aircraft about usd 500K. (not incluse ISR system).
    Cessna 206H ISR should no include Search radar and AIS, should be come with FLIR only.
    will all light ISR aircraft can patrol 5hr plus, but it real life, is about 2-3 hrs, is too un-conform to fly 5hrs+ in so small size. also usually need go to toilet after 2-3 hrs.

  12. I don’t mind which ISR we’ll be flying but as long as we have one, that should be fine. I might wanna go for the Pilatus mk 1 upgrade if its a go for ISR.

  13. @ savvykl

    Tecnam mma and tecnam mri is the same platform. Mma is more to ISR mission while the mri is more towards the maritime surveillance in littoral areas (with search radar, ais transponders etc.)

  14. SavvyKL
    ..all light ISR aircraft can patrol 5hr plus, but it real life, is about 2-3 hrs, is too un-conform to fly 5hrs+ in so small size. also usually need go to toilet after 2-3 hrs.

    still I think personally the best ISR aircraft is a UAV platform either fixed wing or rotary for our borders patrol. It is really puzzling that we already have the Eagle ARV System but we are not utilizing it to the max. Put a request in the next 2016 budget, get the gomen to give more funding to CTRM to enhance the capability of the system after all we already have the air frame, just add the essential electronics.

    I am not sure whether CTRM is still moving forward with the Eagle ARV under the new management

  15. SavvyKL said:

    “will all light ISR aircraft can patrol 5hr plus, but it real life, is about 2-3 hrs, is too un-conform to fly 5hrs+ in so small size. also usually need go to toilet after 2-3 hrs.”

    That’s why they have catheters attached to an empty bag… And if you really want to go low cost, just have the pilots wear adult diapers…

  16. Marhalim,
    Before get everyone excited, you should put a sarcastic warning. No pun intended.
    The Idea is as good as saying a seven feet sampan with handheld HF set and a DLSR is nuff to patrol the Ambalat. 172 is a fun ride for weekend trip but do try it a couple of times before putting someone on it on a daily 5 hours mission.

  17. fird ….

    Agree with you. below usd 10 million ISR aircraft no point to get it. better use UAV, still can get 250km range direct link from control center without satellite. just use usd 2-3 million ISR UAV from china, can patrol 20-24 hrs no issue,
    and it should be a supplement to large MPA aircraft.

  18. Nihd,
    Depends who you talked to. Apparently Marhalim heard otherwise. But there has been discussion to recapitalize the assets.Labuan and Miri is in the discussion.

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