Pakistan to buy six Saab airborne surveillance systems

 - December 11, 2006, 9:14 AM

After some years of negotiation, Pakistan has signed a provisional contract with Saab to procure an airborne early warning system. It will be based on the Saab 2000 twin-turboprop airliner carrying a strut-mounted Ericsson Microwave Systems Erieye radar above the aircraft’s spine. The contract is worth SEK 8.3 billion ($1 billion), of which Saab will receive two-thirds and Ericsson Microwave one-third. According to Saab CEO Åke Svensson, “There are a number of outstanding issues that remain to be resolved until a final contract is in place.”

Pakistan has had a long-standing requirement for a system to provide continuous airborne surveillance of its borders and seaboard. Tensions with India, which now operates the Beriev/Ilyushin A-50 Mainstay AWACS aircraft, have inevitably been the principal driver behind the requirement. The new surveillance system would also be able to play a significant part in disaster relief operations, such as those currently under way in the earthquake-affected regions, by acting as an airborne traffic cop to control and optimize the flow of rescue and relief aircraft. Pakistan’s mountainous terrain, especially in the north, reduces the coverage available from ground-based radars, so AEW aircraft can be used as gap-fillers.

Pakistan is to acquire six aircraft, all former airliners that have been thoroughly refurbished by Saab. The proven hot-and-high performance of the Saab 2000 was a significant factor in the Pakistani choice. Unlike Sweden’s remotely operated radar systems, Pakistan requires onboard operators. The deal also includes ground equipment to support the radars. The AEW aircraft will link into Pakistan’s existing network.

Saab is also marketing its surveillance package to other nations, with Malaysia emerging as a promising prospect. A recent MoU between the Swedish and Saudi governments also covered interest in AEW aircraft. The company is not, however, involved at present in the UAE, although the Erieye is one of the radar systems under consideration. Maj. Gen. Khaled Al-Bu Ainain, commander of the UAE Air Force and Air Defense, told Aviation International News the service is evaluating Ericsson’s radar as one of the possible solutions to meet its AEW requirements. The Erieye can be mounted on a number of platforms, the Embraer EMB-145 twin-jet being the principal alternative to the Saab 2000.