The United Arab Emirates has widened plans to develop a top-end airborne surveillance fleet, signing one major new deal for airborne early warning and dropping new hints of strong interest in the UK's R1 Sentinel airborne standoff radar (ASTOR) platform.

During the Dubai show, Sweden's Saab announced that the UAE would buy two Saab 340 turboprops equipped with the Erieye radar for SEK1.5 billion ($217 million).

The deal allows the UAE to deploy an airborne radar to handle rescue operations, border security and air-to-air surveillance in combat, but US contractors contend that the UAE will continue to pursue a more advanced platform and system than the Saab 340.

Boeing and Northrop Grumman officials, whohave proposed the 737 Wedgetail and E-2D Advanced Hawkeye, respectively, argue that the Saab 340 is an interim capability. The UAE still plans to buy a more advanced system in a few years after learning how to use an AEW&C platform. The 737 and E-2D -and, possibly, the Saab 2000 -will remain in contention for the final contract.

Both the E-2D and the 737 Wedgetail made appearances on the static line, with the latter overcoming three years of delays to be en route for delivery to the Royal Australian Air Force on 24 November. RAAF officials plan to operate the Wedgetail as a training asset only until glitches with electronic support measures equipment can be resolved.

The show also offered compelling evidence that the air force had actually expanded its plans to field a top-line fleet of surveillance aircraft.

Raytheon's airborne standoff radar (ASTOR) appears to be the beneficiary of the UAE's new strategy. Mike Henchey, Raytheon vice-president for international business development, confirms the company is in contract talks with a Middle East government he is prohibited from naming.

However, a senior UAE air force officer, Brig Gen Ibrahim Naser Alalawi, showed a briefing slide displaying the service's military aircraft. This included a picture of an aircraft closely resembling the shape of the Bombardier Global Express XRS, which carries the ASTOR sensor. Finally, John Beaulieu, the navy's business development manager for foreign sales of the Northrop Grumman E-2 and C-2 aircraft, confirmed he was aware the UAE government was negotiating a deal for the ASTOR. Beaulieu also said such a deal should not delay a contract for the AEW&C requirement.

"I don't think it's an either/or [situation]," said Beaulieu. "I don't see one affecting the [acquisition] priority for the other."

Raytheon's Henchey described the ASTOR's appeal in the region as a border surveillance tool. Raytheon has also joined other systems integrators offering a surveillance version of a Beechcraft King Air 350ER for similar missions.

The ASTOR is equipped with a dual-mode synthetic aperture radar and ground moving target indicator.

Source: Flight International