Saab lifted the lid on its GlobalEye “swing-role surveillance system” multi-sensor platform in a ceremony held at the company’s Linköping, Sweden, plant on Friday. The aircraft is the first of three on order for the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Air Force and Air Defence. An order for the first pair was placed in November 2015 and a third was added in February 2017.
Company officials were reticent to provide any details about a projected first flight date, but the first aircraft is essentially complete with systems installed. All of the mission equipment has been tested in an integrated ground test rig, and flight tests will be undertaken primarily to validate laboratory projected figures rather than to test whether the systems work. Ground tests will precede flight tests, in which the first phase will focus on aircraft handling and systems.
GlobalEye is based on the Bombardier Global 6000 airframe. The aircraft are delivered “green” to the Linköping factory where they are extensively modified under a supplemental type certificate. As well as the mission system installation, Saab strengthens the airframe in key areas, notably those that mount the 2,200-pound Erieye ER radar antenna fairing, while adding extra fins to preserve aerodynamic stability. Additional cooling for mission systems is incorporated.
The conversion program centers on the Saab Erieye ER S-band airborne early warning radar, an all-new sensor that can be packaged into the same “ski box” fairing used by previous iterations of the Erieye. The ER is the first airborne radar to feature gallium nitride (GaN) semi-conductor technology, allowing it to generate considerably greater power.
Detection range is extended by about 70 percent to more than 300 nm. This provides significantly longer warning times against potential intruders, permitting commanders to maintain interceptors on ground alert rather than having to fly combat air patrols. Alternatively, the radar can detect low-observable targets at ranges that are typical for non-GaN radars against non-stealthy targets.
Partnering the Erieye ER are an underbelly Leonardo Seaspray 7500E AESA radar that provides coverage—including synthetic aperture radar and ground moving target indicator (SAR/GMTI) modes—for surface targets on land or sea, and a FLIR Systems Star Safire 380HD electro-optical turret under the nose. Wingtip fairings support an electronic support measures suite, and the GlobalEye is equipped with radar, laser and missile approach warning systems, and countermeasures, for self-protection.
Data from these sensors is fused by the central mission command-and-control system and displayed on five operator consoles. A rest area is provided for four additional mission personnel. The operator consoles are arranged in a line along the cabin side, facing outwards. They can be tilted to offset the effect of the nose-up attitude of the aircraft when it is flying long-endurance orbits at low speed. The business jet cabin offers very low noise levels and a 3,500-foot cabin altitude, creating a comfortable working environment for the crew. Endurance is approximately 11 hours.
When Saab’s first AEW platform, the Saab 340-based FSR 890, was fielded by the Swedish air force, it was operated in minimally manned mode, with radar data being downlinked to sensor operators in ground stations. The two Saab 340s that have been flown by the UAE since 2010 are operated in a similar fashion, and the GlobalEye system is also designed to be operated from the ground, depending on mission requirements.
No handover dates for the GlobalEye have been forecast, although Saab has suggested a roughly approximated “36-month” timescale from contract signature for the first, with the second and third aircraft delivered during the following year or so. At the time of the program launch in 2015 it was announced that the UAE’s two Saab 340s would also be upgraded with Erieye ER, which has a similar overall footprint to the legacy radar system currently in use.