Saab sprung a major surprise earlier this month by announcing an order worth some $680 million for its Erieye AEW&C (airborne early warning and control) system from an unidentified customer. The number of Saab 2000 platforms was also unspecified. Saab said the contract covers ground equipment, logistics and support, and will run for approximately 4.5 years. The customer has subsequently been unofficially identified as Saudi Arabia, and the deal is thought to include three aircraft.
Unconfirmed reports surfaced in 2004 that Saudi Arabia was examining a joint buy of AEW aircraft with Pakistan, which subsequently became the launch customer for the Erieye mounted on a Saab 2000 (pictured here dispensing infrared countermeasures). The Royal Saudi Air Force already has a fleet of five Boeing E-3 Sentry AEW platforms flying with No. 18 Squadron at Al Kharj. An alternative AEW&C system could reduce dependency on the U.S. and provide equipment to patrol the disputed border with Yemen. The Erieye’s potent maritime capability may also be of great value to the Saudis.
The Erieye program may be part of a much larger agreement with Saudi Arabia that has already proved highly controversial in Sweden. The reports that Saudi Arabia was the Erieye customer sparked another round of protests among Sweden’s socialist opposition parties, who are calling for a major review of the country’s military export policy.