Two years ago, the Dubai air show’s surprise deal followed the appearance of a nondescript press notice, which pointed simply to an “announcement” between the United Arab Emirates air force and Saab.
Far from concerning a new support deal or sales pitch, the briefing was about an almost $1.3 billion order for a fleet of cutting-edge surveillance aircraft. Based on Bombardier’s Global 6000 long-range business jet, and referred to as a swing-role surveillance system, this promises to be a transformational capability for the UAE. Its initial order was for a pair of aircraft, and a third was formally added earlier this year.
Now named GlobalEye, the system modifies the Rolls-Royce BR710-engined business jet to carry Saab’s Erieye ER active electronically scanned array radar in a dorsal unit above its fuselage, plus a maritime search radar and electro-optical/infrared sensor. The company says this combination will enable the aircraft to perform the “simultaneous detection and tracking of multiple targets in the air, on land and at sea”.
The multi-role platform’s acquisition marks a significant boost in capability for the UAE. Flight Fleets Analyzer records its military as having an active inventory of 504 aircraft, only eight of which are dedicated to intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance tasks. These include two airborne early warning (AEW)-roled Saab 340s and a pair of Bombardier Dash 8 Q300s adapted for maritime patrol duties used by the air force, plus Viking Air DHC-6 Guardian 400 maritime patrol aircraft, Air Tractor AT-802Us and a Cessna 208 flown by its joint air command.
Announcing the deal, Maj Gen Abdulla Al-Hasheim of the UAE defence ministry said the Global 6000 had been selected following “a huge evaluation of different platforms”. Its long-standing requirement had attracted potential bidders to several previous shows, including with a Boeing 737-based system, Northrop Grumman’s E-2D Advanced Hawkeye and a modified Saab 2000.
Saab says its Erieye ER has a range 70% greater than its previous-generation radar, and has cited a 216nm (400km) capability. It also can detect challenging targets such as cruise missiles, small unmanned air vehicles, hovering helicopters and submarine periscopes.
“Everything is going according to the plan, and we are meeting or exceeding expectations on performance,” Jonas Härmä, head of sales and marketing, AEW&C for Saab’s surveillance business area, tells FlightGlobal of system testing. “We’re really very happy with it.”
The GlobalEye platform can accommodate between five and seven mission system operators. Voice and satellite communications equipment and a Link 16 data link will network it with airborne, ground and maritime assets. Mission endurance will exceed 11h.
Bombardier, which will have a business jet example on static display at this year’s show, details the Global 6000 as having a range of 6,000nm and a speed of Mach 0.89, while carrying 17 passengers at up to 51,000ft.
Details of the GlobalEye platform’s flight-test programme and entry-into-service plan have not been disclosed, but the UAE’s lead aircraft were undergoing modification at Saab’s Linköping site within six months of the deal being announced.
The UAE acquired its Saab 340-based AEW assets from surplus Swedish air force stocks in 2009, for SKr1.5 billion ($180 million), and these are also being upgraded under the wider surveillance package.
Hailing the company’s relationship with the UAE and the importance of its launch order in attracting other potential customers, Härmä notes: “We can see an increasing interest for the GlobalEye which is above our expectations. All the way from launch it has been a constant increase.”
Saab recently promoted its GlobalEye and Global 6000-based Swordfish maritime patrol aircraft solutions at the Seoul ADEX show in South Korea, and Härmä points to wider interest in the GlobalEye's multi-role capabilities around the Asia-Pacific region and also with undisclosed nations in Europe.
Meanwhile, the UK’s Marshall Aerospace and Defence Group commenced flight tests earlier this year with another heavily modified Global 6000 for the UAE air force. The aircraft has a large canoe fairing beneath its forward fuselage, reminiscent of the ground-surveillance radar-equipped Global Express-derived Sentinel R1 operated by the UK Royal Air Force. Performed under an activity referred to as Project Dolphin, the adaptation will also be made on a second airframe. Fleets Analyzer shows both as being 2012-built examples, originally delivered to a Swiss entity named AGT International.