Military Global 6000s show operational promise
Saab has expanded its range of airborne early warning and maritime patrol aircraft and now offers its Erieye and Swordfish mission systems integrated on Bombardier's Global 6000 business jet. As Jon Lake reports, these operational solutions look set to enjoy significant market success.
The UAE has selected the new GlobalEye, which combines the Global 6000 with a powerful new extended-range radar, to meet its airborne surveillance/early warning requirements.
It has also chosen a new iteration of the Swordfish maritime patrol aircraft, again based on the Global 6000, which promise to challenge the Boeing P-8 Poseidon as the ‘high-end’ solution of choice for the maritime patrol and anti-submarine role.
For many years, Saab’s special mission offerings tended to be based on its own platforms – the Saab 340 and the Saab 2000. This trend was interrupted when Brazil, Greece and Mexico opted to buy the Saab Erieye airborne early warning system and radar integrated on the Embraer EMB-145, which offered superior speed and altitude performance over the Saab 2000, with similar range.
Though there is still a healthy demand for special missions versions of the Saab 2000 (and even of the older Saab 340), the company increasingly found that some potential customers had a preference for new-build platforms currently in production, rather than using conversions of older surplus airliner types.
Saab was able to win an order for Saab 340-based Erieye airborne early warning aircraft to meet an interim UAE requirement, but its then definitive Saab 2000-based Erieye failed to be selected to meet the long-term requirement.
Pitched against the Boeing 737 AEW&C and Northrop Grumman’s E-2D Hawkeye, the Saab 2000 Erieye was a serious contender, but it took the new GlobalEye, combining an enhanced swing-role surveillance system derivative of the Erieye with the Global 6000, to clinch the deal.
It would be a mistake to view the GlobalEye as being merely an enhanced Erieye on a new platform. Though it is derived from the original Erieye radar, Erieye ER has a 70% greater detection range than the previous sensor, thanks to new processing hardware and software and the use of new gallium nitride (GaN) transmit/receive modules. Saab claims that range is ‘horizon limited’.
The new radar can also detect, identify and track the most challenging targets, including cruise missiles, small unmanned air vehicles and hovering helicopters.
And the GlobalEye is a multi-role, swing-role surveillance platform that genuinely operates in all domains – simultaneously providing airborne early warning and control (AEW&C), maritime surveillance and land surveillance.
GlobalEye is able to do this because the Erieye ER offers synthetic aperture radar and ground moving target indication modes to locate and track land targets, while the combination of a belly-mounted Selex Galileo SeaSpray 7500E maritime search radar and a FLIR Systems Star Safire 380HD electro-optical/infrared sensor provides a formidable capability against even the smallest surface targets, including submarine periscopes, rigid inflatable boats (RIBs) and jet skis.
GlobalEye offers a formidable surface surveillance capability and can usefully augment dedicated maritime patrol and anti-submarine aircraft. But there are aspects of that mission that the GlobalEye cannot accomplish, and for these, Saab offers a dedicated maritime patrol solution in the shape of the Swordfish Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA), which adds the ability to search for targets in the underwater domain, and the ‘high-end’ capability of actually prosecuting attacks against underwater targets.
With 600 submarines in service, and with many of these being smaller, faster and harder to detect, anti-submarine warfare (ASW) is a key capability area for high-end MPAs, together with maritime intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), anti-piracy, search-and-rescue, and command and control.
ASW is very much a Saab strength, not least thanks to its ownership of Kockums AB, the naval shipbuilder responsible for Sweden’s innovative A26 submarine.
Traditional high-end ASW platforms carried lots of sensors, lots of sonobuoys, lots of weapons and 12-13 operators, and were complex and expensive to maintain. Today, ASW platforms can take advantage of greater automation and navigational accuracy and use smaller, lighter sensors that are easier to integrate and to use, and that require less power and less cooling.
All of this means that the ASW mission can be undertaken by smaller aircraft with fewer crew.
Saab believes that its latest MPA, based on the Global 6000, offers a compelling alternative to the Boeing P-8 Poseidon as a true high-end ASW platform.
The Global 6000-based Swordfish uses the same basic mission system as the earlier Saab 2000 Swordfish, but with four or five sensor operators (the rival P-8 carries five), and with an expanded weapons capability.
It carries up to four MU-90 or equivalent torpedoes (one fewer than the P-8) and what Saab coyly refers to as a “significant payload of sonobuoys”, though it does point out that, unlike the P-8, it’s MPA is not limited to carrying A-sized buoys, but can also use smaller F- and G-sized buoys.
With a payload of upwards of 1.5 tonnes, it can be seen that the Swordfish can probably carry something close to the P-8’s maximum load of 126 buoys. Moreover, the Swordfish uses two single-shot gravity launchers (one of which can be pressurised) and two 10-shot rotary launchers.
The Boeing 737-based P-8 is optimised to hunt and engage submarines from medium level – dropping torpedoes that are equipped with wing kits (based on those fitted to the JDAM glide bomb) and guidance systems.
By contrast, the Swordfish does ASW the old fashioned way, descending to low level to drop patterns of sonobuoys with greater accuracy and precision than is possible from higher altitude. The aircraft can then climb to monitor the resulting signals, and descend again, if necessary, to put torpedoes into the water.
Saab’s Gary Shand, the company’s director marketing and sales, airborne ISR and a former RAF Nimrod acoustics operator, said: “ASW is still a low-level game.”
He explained that maintaining the security of a pattern of sonobuoys was fundamental. “Lose contact on a single buoy and it may be game over,” he said.
The Swordfish has real persistence and is able to remain on station, 1,000nm out from base, for eight-and-a-half hours, with a SAR payload on the middle stations, or for five-and-a-half hours carrying four torpedoes. The P-8 endurance is given as four hours, 1,200nm out from base.
Saab claims that the Global 6000-based Swordfish will cost two-thirds of the acquisition cost of a P-8, with 50% lower life cycle costs over its 30 year lifespan.
The aircraft also has a small logistical footprint and uses laptop-based support systems. It will, its makers claim, be able to deploy for up to four nights without any ground crew.
The Global 6000-based Swordfish shares considerable commonality with the GlobalEye, so Saab does not plan to build a demonstrator or prototype. Instead, production aircraft could be delivered within 36-42 months of a contract award, depending on the exact configuration.
The Swordfish mission system is platform agnostic, and, for customers who cannot afford to invest in the Global 6000, or who require slightly less capability, it is offered on the Saab 340 and Saab 2000, and now also on the Bombardier Q400.
This could have fuel tanks scabbed on to the fuselage sides, boosting endurance to about four-and-a-half hours, 1,000nm from base, and the aircraft could carry a pair of torpedoes, rather than the four carried by the Global-based Swordfish. “It’s still a high-end solution,” Shand averred, “with slightly less endurance as a compromise.”
Saab claims there has been a lot of interest in the higher market segment, where the Global 6000 Swordfish is pitched against the Boeing P-8 and Kawasaki P-1 as a potential replacement for the many elderly P-3 Orions and Atlantics now in service.
There has, apparently, been more interest in the Global 6000-based Swordfish than in the Q400-based solution, and Saab is in active discussions with a number of potential customers in “every major continent”.