On April 29, the first GlobalEye multi-sensor aircraft for the United Arab Emirates Air Force and Air Defense (UAE AFAD) landed in Abu Dhabi to be handed over to the customer. Leaving Sweden on the evening of the 28th, it arrived in the Gulf nation after a scheduled stop in Bulgaria. The aircraft, which was the second GlobalEye to fly, operated as SE-RMZ while being tested in Sweden. Tests are ongoing with two more of the GlobalEye swing-role surveillance platforms GlobalEyes in preparation for handover. The first aircraft to fly is likely to be the last to be delivered, as it was heavily instrumented for flight tests and requires additional work to bring it to operational standard.
The UAE ordered two GlobalEyes in November 2015 and added a third in February 2017. The delivery of the first has been made according to an aggressive development, testing, and delivery schedule, with the handover being conducted a little less than four and a half years after contract signature. It is to undergo a brief joint Saab/UAE acceptance test campaign in Abu Dhabi before embarking on its UAE AFAD career. The handover and acceptance testing has required considerable planning to mitigate the effects of Covid-19, and to ensure that the requisite Saab personnel from Sweden cleared quarantine in time. The schedule for subsequent deliveries, and military certification, has not been revealed, but Saab CEO Micael Johansson told reporters on April 29 that it was a “tight delivery schedule” and that only a few tests needed to be completed.
Saab has delivered all of the associated ground segment ahead of delivery of the first aircraft, including a mission-training simulator. UAE air and groundcrew have been training in Sweden on the system for some time.
In November 2019, the UAE AFAD revealed at the Dubai Airshow that it intended to order an aditional pair of GlobalEyes. Johansson reported that negotiations were still ongoing but were in the final stages. He acknowledged that the Covid-19 issue had resulted in “limited facetime with the customer” but said that work was progressing, with much of it being performed by Saab’s Abu Dhabi office.
Discussions are also ongoing concerning support for the GlobalEye fleet beyond the initial phase. The length of that initial support, and the nature of what could follow, are being examined, with options such as working with local industry and a performance-based support solution on the table. Another subject under review is the upgrade of the UAE AFAD’s two older Saab 340-based Erieye airborne early-warning aircraft, with a range of options being considered. The upgrade of the 340s was announced as part of the initial deal unveiled in 2015 but may have been superseded by subsequent events.
It is likely that the UAE’s fourth and fifth GlobalEyes—if ordered—would be based on the current Bombardier Global 6000 airframe to maintain fleet commonality, but they could also be based on the Global 6500 that is being phased into production. Saab holds sufficient delivery slots for both 6000 and 6500 to meet the additional UAE requirement and some other potential sales, such as to Finland (as part of the HX fighter offer). The UAE could support Saab with respect to potential export customer demonstrations on a “case-by-case basis,” Johansson told AIN.
Another opportunity for the GlobalEye might be Sweden itself. That country is currently conducting a defense review, with a renewal of its airborne early-warning fleet a subject for discussion as part of a force build-up that is likely to see Gripen C/Ds retained in use long after the Gripen E has entered service and possibly been upgraded with the company’s new GaN fighter radar.
On the question of migrating the GlobalEye/Erieye ER system to the improved, re-engined Global, Johansson noted that it is not the same as integrating it into a completely new platform. “It’s not a major effort to take it from the 6000 to 6500. It’s an incremental work package,” he said.
For the immediate future, Saab is content with the Global platform but could integrate the system into another aircraft if a customer might want it for reasons of fleet commonality. The system architecture is software-driven with the ability to be easily upgraded. Johansson foresees the GlobalEye system being “around for a long time, serving beyond 2060.” Among the avenues being pursued is the application of technology to bistatic operations with radar arrays mounted on UAVs.