Reduced to an operational assessment barely 18 months ago, the U.S. Army’s Enhanced Medium Altitude Reconnaissance and Surveillance System (Emarss) program is showing new signs of life.

Under development by Boeing, Emarss is an airborne multi-intelligence platform based on a new-build Beechcraft King Air 350ER twin turboprop.

The Army’s fiscal 2014 budget request includes funds for four low-rate initial production (LRIP) aircraft, plus two more in 2015. The $142 million sought in 2014 includes refurbishment of four engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) aircraft to production standard.

The first of the EMD aircraft is now in ground test at Beechcraft in Wichita and is expected to fly later this quarter. After initial flights, testing will relocate to Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, says Eric Stuverude, Boeing business-development manager.

Emarss was originally expected to involve production of around 48 new-build aircraft to replace the hodgepodge of intelligence-collection platforms operated by the Army’s aerial exploitation battalions and acquired piecemeal to meet urgent operational requirements.

In October 2011, the Army announced Emarss would be restricted to the four EMD aircraft to save money. The plan called for the EMD aircraft to be deployed to Afghanistan in 2014 for an operational assessment.

Under the latest plan, the four refurbished development aircraft, two more EMD platforms on option and the six planned LRIP aircraft would give the Army enough to equip one battalion.

The Emarss highly modified King Air 350ER is equipped with electro-optical/infrared sensor, communications-intelligence payload, precision geolocation system, airborne Distributed Common Ground System workstations, data links and satellite communications.