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Pakistan Quietly Inducts a New Erieye AEW&C System

On 03 January, the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) revealed that it procured a new Saab 2000-based Erieye airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft.

The new aircraft was given the serial “23-058” and was shown as part of a wider ceremony celebrating the induction of several new aircraft types, notably the Chengdu J-10CE Dragon multirole fighters, ex-Belgian Air Force C-130H Hercules airlifters, and other logistics and auxiliary aircraft.

The Saab Erieye is an active electronically scanned array (AESA)-based system. It offers a detection range of up to 450 km. Through data-link connectivity, the Erieye can pass its sensor data to friendly air and ground assets. The overall Erieye AEW&C system also features five mission operator consoles for operators to coordinate between the AEW&C and connected air assets, such as fighter aircraft.

With unit ‘23058’ the PAF’s Erieye fleet has grown to seven to nine aircraft. Quwa was able to visually verify seven aircraft, but public records list serials for eight active units.

To date, the PAF has acquired the Erieye across three orders. The PAF signed its first order in 2006 for six AEW&Cs (plus one standard Saab 2000) for $1.15 billion US. However, this order was reduced to four aircraft due to the 2005 earthquake in Kashmir. The cost dropped to $186 million, indicating that each Erieye (not inclusive of training and logistics costs) was priced at $93 million US in 2007.

In 2012, three of the four aircraft were damaged resulting from a terrorist attack on Minhas Air Base, of which one was written off. The PAF internally restored the other two and returned them to service in 2015 and 2016. In its 2015-2016 yearbook, the Ministry of Defence Production (MoDP) disclosed a “recovery” of a “fourth AEW&C system” at a cost of $130.39 million US.

Thus, by 2016, the PAF restored its Erieye AEW&C fleet to four aircraft. In 2017, then PAF Chief of Air Staff (CAS), Air Chief Marshal (ACM) Sohail Aman, revealed Air Headquarters (AHQ) ordered another three Erieye AEW&C aircraft.[1] In 2016, Saab disclosed that it received an AEW&C order valued at $132 million US, and then a $153 million US order in 2017. Combined, the cost was $285 million US, which (based on the unit pricing in 2007) would cover three systems.

The delivery of the ‘Batch-II’ Erieye AEW&Cs were recorded in previously public export-import logs – the PAF took delivery of radar systems and aircraft from Saab in February 2017 as well as in April and May 2018. In its 2017-2018 yearbook, the MoDP recorded the purchase of a ‘sixth’ Erieye AEW&C for $94.95 million US. This ‘Batch-II’ order was likely completed in 2019.

In May 2020, Saab revealed it secured another AEW&C sale for $160.5 million US from an unnamed buyer, with deliveries taking place between 2020 and 2023. This customer was revealed to be the PAF as it inducted an Erieye with the serial numbers ’20-057’ and (in December 2023) ’23-058.’

Tallying Pakistan’s Erieye AEW&C Systems

Quwa examined the serial numbers of the PAF’s Saab 2000-based Erieye AEW&C systems. Using the visual verification, Quwa confirmed that the PAF has seven Erieye systems from the 2006, 2017, and 2020 orders. However, the stated serial records indicate that the PAF has nine Erieye systems.

Quwa visually verified the following aircraft:

Original Batch (2006):

  • 10-025
  • 10-040
  • 11-045 (previously registered as 10-045)

Follow-On Batch (2017):

  • 18-060
  • 18-081

Follow-On Batch (2020):

  • 20-057
  • 23-058

The serial records show two other aircraft – 09-049 and 19-061. However, Quwa could not verify those aircraft visually, but both were recorded by both ‘Scramble’ and ‘Asian Military Review.’ Some records show there is a 10-045, but this aircraft was re-registered as 11-045.

Standardizing on the Erieye

In any case, the PAF now operates the largest Erieye AEW&C fleet in the world and, interestingly, one of the world’s largest fleet of AEW&C aircraft overall.

However, a recent promotional video by the PAF indicated that AHQ will retire the service’s fleet of four Karakoram Eagle AEW&C systems it acquired from China in 2009. With the additional purchases, the PAF could be standardizing on the Erieye as its sole AEW&C platform.

Standardizing on the Erieye confirms several key points.

First, Link-17 – the PAF’s proprietary tactical data-link (TDL) – is compatible with the Erieye. Though a Western system, Saab marketed the Erieye as an open platform, one capable of operating Link-11, Link-16, and proprietary TDLs, like Link-17. The Erieye was never ‘restricted’ to the Link-16, which is used by the PAF’s F-16A/B Block-15 Mid-Life Update and F-16C/D Block-52+ aircraft.

This capacity to handle multiple TDLs is not only important for connecting fighters to the AEW&C, but it also enables the end-user to build a network around their other systems, like surface warships. For example, the PN has its own TDL called the Naval Information Exchange System (NIXS). Considering that the Erieye is ostensibly replacing the Karakoram Eagle, which supports the PAF’s maritime/joint-operations domain with the Pakistan Navy, the capacity to support NIXS is essential.

Second, the PAF’s Erieye AEW&Cs can process multiple TDLs simultaneously, so the PAF can equip them to manage Link-16, Link-17, and NIXS. In theory, the PAF could allocate specific Erieye aircraft to support the F-16 and JF-17/J-10CE separately, but there is no technical restricting stopping it from configuring a single Erieye with multiple TDLs. For example, the Turkish vendor MilSOFT (among the Pakistani military’s suppliers) offers a solution called the MilSOFT Multi-Data-Link Processor (Mil-DLP) for managing multiple TDLs in a single platform. Likewise, Leonardo – another of Pakistan’s key subsystem suppliers – also offers a similar solution, the Multi-Data Link Processor (M-DLP).

Third, the PAF also likely wants to streamline its AEW&C fleet. The Karakoram Eagle requires an end-to-end base for training and maintenance support for both the ZDK03 radar system and the Y-8F600 aircraft. The PAF may have found the operating costs for so few aircraft to be high and – especially as it did not expand the fleet – an inefficient use of resources. However, the timing of the ZDK03’s induction was interesting in that the PAF needed those AEW&Cs to shore up its fleet after losing 75% of its Erieye in the Minhas Air Base attack in 2012. Even if it declined them in 2009, the PAF may have ended up acquiring the ZDK03 – if only as a stopgap – later on while it rebuilt its Erieye fleet.

Is ‘23-058’ an Erieye-ER?

Observers have suggested that the PAF’s latest Erieye is in fact the Erieye-ER, an improved version of the system with a 70% higher detection range. Though 23-058 sports a panel of some type on its tail or vertical stabilizer, Quwa could not verify if this unit is an Erieye-ER.

If one assumes that 23-058 is part of the 2020 contract, then an Erieye-ER system would not fit within the stated cost figure of $160.5 million US. In fact, this amount would cover two previous versions of the Erieye, which the evidence clearly points towards via the purchases of 20-057 and 23-058.

A single GlobalEye AEW&C system costs around $300 million US; thus, the latest PAF contract would not cover even one system, much less two aircraft. Granted, the GlobalEye cost would also comprise of the Global Express 6000, Leonardo Seaspray surface-facing radar, and other subsystems. But the cost of these other inputs would not lower the cost to the point where an Erieye-ER would be priced as affordably as the older Erieye. Indeed, at a unit cost of $80-90 million, the standard Erieye provides the PAF with a scalable way to grow its AEW&C fleet, one it is evidently leveraging.

However, this is not to suggest that there are no changes in the 23-058. In fact, the Brazilian Air Force recently inducted an upgraded version of its EMB-145-based Erieye AEW&C, the E-99M. According to Embraer, the E-99M uses an “updated Erieye radar” as well as other new subsystems. The Brazilian Air Force received its first E-99M only weeks before the PAF received 23-058.

Thus, while it is unlikely that the PAF acquired the Erieye-ER, it may have acquired an upgraded Erieye system similar to one used onboard the E-99M. Moreover, like the Brazilian Air Force, the PAF may be working towards upgrading its existing Erieye systems to the new standard.

That said, this does not preclude the PAF from potentially acquiring the Erieye-ER in the long-term. In fact, the service recently inducted a Bombardier Global 6000 Express, which it will configure into an electronic warfare (EW)/electronic attack (EA) aircraft. The PAF would not have invested in the Global Express 6000’s operating infrastructure if it did not plan to acquire additional aircraft. Granted, these orders may be limited to EW/EA aircraft, but the PAF may extend it to a new AEW&C system.

The cost of each GlobalEye AEW&C is around $300 million to $320 million US. It is a costly asset, but the Erieye-ER offers a substantial performance upgrade; a 70% increase in the detection range would give the Erieye-ER a coverage of 765 km. This would greatly improve the PAF’s situational awareness, one it can leverage to either see farther across the border or, alternatively, operate its AEW&C further behind its own borders when supporting offensive air operations.

There is significant value in acquiring the GlobalEye, one that justifies its high cost. Even three or four GlobalEye systems could be a major force-multiplier for the PAF. While its large Erieye fleet can offer pervasive air coverage and air battle management over Pakistani territory, the handful of GlobalEye systems can exclusively serve the PAF’s evolving offensively-oriented wings, which will mature when it begins inducting stealthy next-generation fighter aircraft and unmanned combat aerial vehicles.

[1] Alan Warnes. “Pakistan to get more Erieyes”. Air Forces Monthly. 19 May 2017. URL: (Last Accessed: 24 February 2018).

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