Saab is currently carrying out extensive modifications to a “green” Bombardier Global 6000 airframe to turn it into the GlobalEye multi-role surveillance system. An initial two aircraft have been ordered by the United Arab Emirates Air Force and Air Defence, and a third was added to the contract earlier this year. That aircraft is due to arrive in Sweden from Bombardier shortly, and while details of progress with the conversions have not been disclosed, Saab describes the program as “on schedule.”
GlobalEye is a multi-sensor system that incorporates an X-band maritime search radar (Leonardo Seaspray 7500E), electro-optical sensor (Flir Systems Star Safire), AIS (automatic identification system), IFF/ADS-B and a range of communications systems, including satcoms.
However, at the core of the system is a new airborne early warning radar known as Erieye-ER. Housed in the same over-cabin “ski-box” fairing as the previous iterations of the Erieye radar, the S-band Erieye ER employs gallium nitride semiconductor technology to allow more power to be transmitted while providing greater flexibility of operating mode.
As with the Erieye, the ER provides 300-degree coverage with small gaps to the front and rear. Full 360-degree coverage was studied by Saab and found to offer limited operational benefit for the additional cost involved, and its deletion allows the ER to fit into the existing dorsal fairing. The radar is now under test in Saab’s Gothenburg facility, and will first fly on a GlobalEye. The aircraft itself is modified by Saab at Linköping under a series of supplemental type certificates.
In developing Erieye-ER Saab looked to extend the range at which low-observable targets can be detected, as such air vehicles are increasingly fielded around the world. “Reclaiming the stealth gap” is how the company describes it, and the GlobalEye is being marketed as the “stealth-killer.” In the air domain the jam-resistant radar offers a 70 percent increase in detection range compared to the existing Erieye, and its various modes can detect a wide variety of flying objects, including hovering helicopters. In the maritime surveillance role the aircraft has a horizon of approximately 400 km (250 miles) and the ability to detect periscopes and jet-skis. GMTI and synthetic aperture modes provide an overland capability.
Basing GlobalEye on the Global 6000 platform allows the system to undertake patrols of more than 11 hours’ endurance, while the flight deck provides a state-of-the-art ProLine Fusion avionics environment with head-up display and synthetic/enhanced vision systems. The cabin offers comfortable working conditions for the five operators, with options for one or two more, and the aircraft’s performance permits a rapid escape if required.
Saab (Chalet 379) is pitching the GlobalEye at a number of potential AEW and multi-role surveillance requirements around the world, noting that 50 percent of the market lies outside China, Russia and the U.S. The original Erieye radar is currently in service on Saab 340, Saab 2000 and Embraer ERJ-145 airframes in Brazil, Greece, Mexico, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sweden, Thailand and the UAE.
The original customer, Sweden, continues to operate its Saab 340 aircraft, but through the delivery of pairs of aircraft to Thailand and the UAE its own fleet has been reduced to only two aircraft. These originally flew in a minimally-manned configuration known as FSR890, with all radar data downlinked to ground stations. They were upgraded in 2009 to the current ASC890 standard with three operator consoles to give an airborne control capability. The operators comprise a mission control officer, combat control operator and surveillance operator.
Flying from Malmen in Sweden with 732 Special Flight Squadron (part of the F7 Wing), the two ASC890 aircraft have been extremely busy in recent times with the rise of military air activity over the Baltic from both East and West. One of the aircraft is kept on a permanent ground alert, ready to launch as required in under 30 minutes. Real-world launches are being conducted several times each week.
With such a heavy tasking the fleet is under pressure. The aircraft themselves are structurally able to continue until 2030, but some parts will need replacement from 2020. The Swedish air force could itself become a customer for the GlobalEye, or it has been speculated that the UAE Saab 340s could return to Sweden when the GlobalEyes are in operation. Another concept being mooted is a joint program with Finland, which has become a strategic defense partner with Sweden.