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Pakistan Air Force Takes Delivery of 3 Saab 2000 Aircraft

According to publicly available import and export (EXIM) registries, the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) received three Saab 2000 aircraft on 06 April 2019. These Saab 2000s appear to be from an order of three aircraft made by Pakistan’s Directorate General of Defence Purchases (DGDP) in February 2018.

Skyworld Aviation, an aircraft sales and leasing broker, delivered the aircraft – i.e., J-038, J-024, and J-062 – to the DGDP in November 2018. The PAF had originally ordered five Saab 2000s, i.e., four to house the Erieye airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) system and one for VIP flights and training.

In 2012, one of the four Erieye AEW&C was written-off, while two were seriously damaged. However, the two damaged aircraft were repaired at Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) and, in turn, resulted in PAC building depot-level maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) capabilities.

In 2017, the PAF reportedly ordered three additional Erieye AEW&C aircraft (Air Forces Monthly), of which the first was slated for delivery in December 2017 and the remaining two in 2018. If completed, this would raise the PAF fleet to six, which it trimmed to four following the 2005 earthquake in Kashmir.

Quwa’s examination of EXIM logs show that Saab made major radar equipment deliveries to Pakistan in 2017 and 2018. In March 2019, Sweden’s Inspectorate of Strategic Products confirmed that Saab sold an Erieye AEW&C system to Pakistan in 2018.[1] However, the Inspectorate had reportedly added that this Erieye order was in relation to the PAF’s original order (i.e., to replace the written-off unit), and that “no new export transactions have been approved to Pakistan since 2007.”[2]

However, in March 2019, Saab again made a major delivery of “radar equipment” and other components to the PAF. Granted, these deliveries could refer to spare parts, but the major consignments (i.e., of over 100 in the ‘quantity’ column of the EXIM logs) are not common, and, to the point about spare parts, there are also smaller consignments of “radar equipment” occurring more frequently.

In short, the only conclusive point is that the PAF has restored its Erieye AEW&C fleet to four aircraft; the question now is whether it is adding two additional AEW&C. However, the addition of three Saab 2000s could indicate that the follow-on order is now in full-effect.

It is also possible that due to Pakistan’s precarious fiscal situation, the Erieye AEW&C follow-on contract is moving slower than originally expected. After all, the PAF only took delivery of the additional aircraft it needs to equip the Erieye in 2019, so these aircraft will not factor in as serviceable AEW&C before 2020.

Interestingly, the Inspectorate also confirmed that the unit price of each Erieye AEW&C system – minus the logistics, maintenance, and training costs – is $108 million US.[3]

This is not far from the estimate Quwa calculated in an earlier article (i.e., $114 million US). In other words, the PAF’s follow-on order would be at $324 million. This may be low enough for the PAF to fund through a layaway arrangement, i.e., commit to the deal once it has secured sufficient cash-based funding.

The Erieye vs. GlobalEye

Given the importance of AEW&C in the PAF’s air warfare doctrine, especially from the standpoint of using AEW&C to fully enable the JF-17 against any threat, a case can be made for the PAF to procure the Erieye ER-based GlobalEye instead of the Erieye (or in addition to the Erieye).

The gallium nitride (GaN)-based Erieye ER offers a range improvement of 70%. In addition, the GlobalEye system – thanks to its Leonardo Seaspray synthetic aperture radar (SAR) – can also build a picture of the ground and target moving vehicles on land. Thus, it offers more than the Erieye AEW&C.

However, it is also much costlier than the Erieye. In fact, not only would the system cost more, the PAF would also have to raise a parallel (i.e., its third) AEW&C logistics and support line to maintain it. But given how South Asia will see the introduction of aircraft with low radar cross-sections (RCS), the Erieye ER may be necessary to providing the JF-17 (as well as F-16 and Project Azm) with the ability to target them.

Finally, though it is relatively costly, the Erieye ER’s absolute costs – e.g., $1 billion US for four aircraft – is more affordable than a new Western fighter. In addition, it would further enable the PAF’s JF-17s by giving them longer-ranged situational awareness and targeting capabilities. In lieu of an off-the-shelf fighter, the PAF’s next step should be to strengthen its support assets so as to enable the JF-17 and F-16.

[1] Guy Anderson. “Swedish exports remain static after reforms.” IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly. 20 March 2019.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

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