Saab sees the UK as a potential customer for its new airborne early warning and control products as a replacement for the Royal Air Force’s Boeing E-3 Sentry.
Although there is no current replacement plan for the six-strong Sentry fleet, Saab considers its Erieye ER radar system – or the full Bombardier Global 6000-based GlobalEye – to be ideal for the UK.
“If we look at what we’re trying to sell in airborne early warning, the UK is a key opportunity for AWACS,” says Magnus Lewis-Olsson, president of the Europe, Middle East and Africa region at Saab. “We’re hoping that with GlobalEye there may be some gap for us in the future.”
Saab still views the UK as a key market, despite the fact that flagship products like the Gripen NG combat jet and Swordfish maritime patrol aircraft are off the nation's shopping list.
“We’re sober enough to know they won’t buy the Gripen tomorrow,” Lewis-Olsson says. “We don’t know where they [the UK] are going with it [AEW&C], but looking at the bigger products we have, this is one potential area for them.”
The UK’s Strategic Defence and Security Review, released in November 2015, suggested that the RAF’s Sentry fleet would remain operational until 2035. This will require a mission system mid-life upgrade, which is expected to be put out to tender in mid-2017.
Despite the Sentry fleet’s age – Flight Fleets Analyzer shows the aircraft as between 25 and 27 years old – and its frequent use in operations, flight hours for the airframes are relatively low, and the mission system upgrade will keep the fleet viable to 2035.
“The idea is to prolong the capability…but maybe there are openings for the technology or the aeroplanes that we have,” Lewis-Olsson says.
Erieye ER is being provided to the United Arab Emirates in the GlobalEye configuration, with development under way, although the radar has not yet been integrated onto the aircraft, Saab says. It claims that this should be relatively straightforward, given the size of the Global 6000.
The UAE placed the order for two GlobalEye AEW&C aircraft during the Dubai air show in November 2015, through a deal worth $1.27 billion.