Saab Offers Low-Cost Maritime Surveillance

 - June 19, 2013, 5:59 AM
In baseline configuration the 340MSA’s mission system can easily be operated by one operator.

Maritime security is an increasingly important requirement for most nations with a coastline. The need to protect and secure trade routes has grown in recent years, as has security for offshore oil and gas installations. Fishery patrol, pollution control and search-and-rescue (SAR) remain as important as ever. However, while many nations need to either acquire a maritime surveillance capability or increase an existing one, they may not be able to afford the high price of traditional maritime patrollers.

To answer the requirements Saab is promoting its 340MSA solution, which is available for around the cost of a King Air while offering greater capacity and mission flexibility, according to Saab. Using an airliner as a platform brings with it the levels of reliability that are required for intensive use and, while the 340 airframes are second-hand, the Saab factory refurbishes them to an as-new standard. The company offers at least the industry-standard 12-month warranty on the aircraft and, providing they are used according to the manuals, Saab says the aircraft can serve for at least 30 more years.

“The aircraft will not be the limiting factor,” Rickard Hjelmberg, v-p of marketing and sales for maritime surveillance, told AIN. “You will change the mission equipment many times before you need to change the aircraft.”

Another benefit of the 340’s airliner pedigree is a sizeable cabin that allows for a large number of mission configurations, or even for use as a utility transport when not needed for patrol. In its baseline maritime surveillance configuration, as seen here on the company demonstrator aircraft in the static park, the 340MSA has a single operator station, but there is plenty of room for additional consoles or equipment. The cabin could also be configured with medical stations for medevac duties, or even with VIP seating areas.

Although the aircraft itself offers a very cost-effective platform, Saab has devised a capable mission system based on primary sensors that include the Telephonics 1700B radar and a Flir HD electro-optical/infrared sensor in a retractable turret. The aircraft also has an Automatic Identification System (AIS) transponder for plotting vessels, and an automatic direction-finder that scans regular distress beacon frequencies. The direction-finder not only alerts the crew of any emergencies, but can also quickly calculate the survivor’s position through triangulation.

Employing a sophisticated mission management system, the operator’s console has two main screens. At the top is the electronic chart system (ECS) that shows the aircraft’s track and a plot of vessels based on (AIS) information. Each vessel is represented by a mark which, when clicked upon by the operator, reveals its AIS information. Various filters can be applied to allow the operator to concentrate on those targets that may be of interest, which can be investigated further.

Below the ECS is the tactical situation presentation (TSP), which shows the plot of vessels based on radar information. The EO/IR turret can be cued by clicking on target indicators on the screen, with the image being displayed on the TSP. The system is highly versatile, including picture-in-picture capability. Below the two large screens are two smaller touchscreens that are used to control many functions of the mission system and its display.

Mounted to the right of the screens are the communications panels, which include VHF/UHF mission radio and satellite communications. The flight crew also has HF communications. Mission data can be relayed internally to a screen on the flight deck, and both flight crew and mission operator can input new navigation data into the system, enabling them to work as a tight team. The operator also has a hand controller for the EO/IR turret, and can use a digital camera to record geo-referenced images of vessels for evidence or other purposes.

Saab has schemed the 340MSA to be flexible, and a number of options are available. One of them is a SAR (search and rescue) package that includes a rear hatch that can be opened inflight for dropping rescue equipment such as liferafts, and large-panel observation windows. The latter are accompanied by swiveling seats that provide maximum comfort for observers during long visual searches. An internal auxiliary fuel tank is another option.

As part of the mission flexibility Saab provides a Wi-Fi environment in the cabin, allowing those on board to communicate with the ground through the satellite communications system. Additional crewmembers, such as an on-scene mission controller, can be carried. They are able to contribute to the mission through the Wi-Fi system without the need for any new equipment to be installed. An advanced intercom system allows all on board to communicate on the same net, or groups arranged in partitioned nets.

Saab’s MSA demonstrator has been shown to many air arms and agencies, and has generated significant interest from around the world. Africa and the Far East, in particular, are areas where the role of maritime security is increasingly important and where Saab sees good potential for its offering.