There are very few images of the U.S. Army EO-5C. Here’s one taken over Benghazi, Libya, few days ago.
The fact that U.S. Navy EP-3E ARIES II signal intelligence platforms were involved over North Africa was known, since images had already exposed the presence of the Navy spyplane over Libya during the evacuation of the U.S. embassy earlier this year.
What was unknown is that at least one secretive U.S. Army Dash 7 surveillance aircraft, designated EO-5C, has operated in the skies of eastern Libya, the same region where the U.S. has recently identified camps hosting a couple hundred ISIS militants.
The presence of an Army aircraft packed with sensors, known as ARL (Airborne Reconnaissance Low), is usually kept obscure: the aircraft does not wear military markings and some of its sensors can be retracted making the airplane a regional liner rather than a special operations plane on clandestine mission.
But photos of the aircraft overflying Benghazi on Nov. 29 have appeared on Twitter.
The EO-5C can detect and fix enemy transmissions on all the radio spectrum, collect both IR (Infrared) and visibile-light very high resolution imagery, track moving ground targets as well as monitor how footprints in the sand change over time.
The Navy’s ARIES II also seen operating over Benghazi is a highly modified version of the P-3C used to perform SIGINT (Signal Intelligence) missions. This variant of the Orion maritime patrol aircraft became famous on Apr. 1, 2001 when one such planes and its crew were detained for 11 days following a collision with a Chinese J-8IIM fighter (that crashed causing the death of the pilot) and the subsequent emergency landing at Ligshui airbase, in Hainan island.
One of these Navy aircraft was spotted over Libya in 2012 when there were rumors that it might be involved in operations aimed at detecting and tracking smuggled weapons travelling towards Egypt and destined to Gaza.
In this case, the U.S. Navy spyplane, along with the Army EO-5C was probably seeking ISIS militants.
Image credit: Stoah News Agency