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Pakistan will stick with the Erieye AEW&C; add different ISR aircraft for other roles

On 23 February, Saab rolled-out the first of three GlobalEye Swing Role Surveillance System (SRSS) special mission aircraft for the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Integrated to the Bombardier Global 6000, the SRSS’ marquee system is Erieye ER airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) system. The Erieye Extended Range (Erieye ER) uses an S-band active electronically-scanned array (AESA) radar equipped gallium nitride (GaN)-based transceiver modules (TRM), which both double the radar’s power-efficiency and provide a reported range improvement of 70% over the preceding Erieye AEW&C system.[1][2]

In addition to the Erieye ER, the GlobalEye/SRSS also incorporates a ground surveillance suite comprising of the Leonardo Seaspray 7500E active electronically-scanned array (AESA) radar and FLIR Systems Star SAFIRE III electro-optical and infrared (EO/IR) turret. The Seaspray 7500E provides an instrumented range of 320 nautical miles (i.e. 592 km) for surface surveillance.[3] It also includes synthetic aperture radar (SAR) with ground-moving target indication for building situational awareness on land.[4]

The Pakistan Air Force (PAF) operates the preceding variant, i.e. the gallium arsenide (GaA)-based TRM-equipped Erieye, providing an instrumented range of 450 km. There is no doubt that the Erieye ER is a substantial improvement over the Erieye, and with the PAF having three additional AEW&C systems on order from Saab, one might ask if the PAF is procuring the newer and much improved system. This is very unlikely considering the added costs of raising a new logistics chain and the high price of the Erieye ER.

The news of the PAF procuring three additional Erieye AEW&C comes from the journalist Alan Warnes, who cited PAF Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Sohail Aman.[5] The first was to be delivered in December 2017, with the remaining two in 2018. The intent is likely to scale the existing infrastructure overhead – i.e. which seemingly includes a depot-level maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) site for the Saab 2000 – and to bring the Erieye AEW&C fleet to the originally planned force of six aircraft (pre-2005 earthquake).

However, although the PAF will not benefit from the Erieye ER’s range advantage, Pakistan is adding the other elements of the GlobalEye/SRSS, such as enhanced surface surveillance, through other platforms. Thus, while Pakistan’s application differs – i.e. diffusing capability instead of concentrating it – the goal of enhancing the country’s intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) coverage is in place.

Cost Analysis: Erieye vs. Erieye ER/GlobalEye

While there is no doubting the substantial range improvement provided by the Erieye ER, it must be noted that Pakistan is able to afford the preceding Erieye. The following breakdown of each system’s pricing will show that not only is the Erieye more affordable, but it is now relatively affordable for the PAF.

In 2015, the UAE signed a $1.27 billion order with Saab for the GlobalEye/SRSS.[6] Saab did not disclose the specific number of SRSS on order, but Aviation Week reported that the deal included two new-built systems integrated to the Bombardier Global 6000 and two upgrade kits for the UAE’s existing Saab 340-based Erieye AEW&C.[7] However, Aviation Week noted that the Saab 340 will be fitted with “new sensors and mission systems”, but “the sensor suite for the Global 6000s will be different.”[8] Considering that the GlobalEye is equipped with three different sensors – i.e. the Erieye ER, Leonardo Seaspray 7500E AESA radar and the Star SAFIRE 380HD electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) turret – it is unclear how the Saab 340 will differ. However, in January 2017 the UAE ordered a third GlobalEye from Saab for $238 million.[9]

Although the unit-price of each complete GlobalEye system is $238 million, the UAE’s follow-on order does not include the supporting logistics, training and maintenance infrastructure cost. These costs were incorporated into the initial $1.27 billion order. Thus, the all-inclusive cost of each GlobalEye system is comfortably higher than $317.5 million (i.e. $1.27 billion divided by four), likely much higher as the cost of upgrading the Saab 340s – especially with dissimilar sensor and electronic suites – is also a factor.

Thus, Pakistan would have to pay in the range of $300 to $350 million per GlobalEye system, which – when applied into a requirement of two or three aircraft – would be $600 million to $1.05 billion U.S in total. When there is an outstanding requirement for new multi-role fighters or potential need of long-range surface-to-air missiles, it is unlikely that the PAF will part with $500 million to $1 billion for ISR aircraft, even if these aircraft are Erieye ER. This is assuming that such funds are even available for a start.

In contrast, adding new Erieye AEW&C – especially through the Saab 2000 – is turning out to have been a very affordable route for the PAF. To be clear, the cost of adding new Erieye is lower for the PAF because it has the requisite infrastructure to maintain them. These infrastructure costs were absorbed in the initial order made in 2007 for four Erieye. In 2006, Pakistan agreed to purchasing six Saab 2000-based Erieye for $1.15 billion (i.e. $1.4 billion today).[10] Today, that all-inclusive cost would amount to $350 million per aircraft, but in 2007 a change to the contract had revealed the cost of each system minus the initial costs. Due to the aftermath of an earthquake in Kashmir in 2005, the PAF omitted two Erieye from its order, this trimmed-off $186 million (i.e. $227 million today) – i.e. $93 million per aircraft ($114 million today).[11]

In May 2017, Saab’s AEW&C business ground registered a $155 million order from an undisclosed buyer, but this purchase is connected to Pakistan.[12] For the PAF, it is evident that simply adding more of the same Erieye AEW&C is more affordable than the Erieye ER. In fact, even when the infrastructure costs are taken-out of the equation, the Erieye is markedly lower-cost than the GlobalEye (i.e. $155 million vs. $238 million for the UAE’s third GlobalEye order). Granted, the cost of a new-built high-performance business jet and additional sensors will add to the GlobalEye’s cost, but it is unlikely that those – which are ancillary to the overall system along with the ubiquitous off-the-shelf solutions – would elevate the GlobalEye’s cost significantly.

Granted, additional Erieye ER orders – along with orders for the GaN-based Giraffe 1X, 4A and 8A land and sea-based air surveillance radars – could make it cheaper for Saab to produce the Erieye ER (scale the GaN TRM manufacturing), it is likely that the company will aim to increase its profit. In other words, the difference between the Erieye ER and the Erieye will likely remain, enabling Saab to leverage the latter as an entry-level and lower-cost option – thus giving the company a vehicle for cost-sensitive and developing world markets in the long-term.

The one scenario where Pakistan buying the Erieye ER can be plausible – besides a long-term outlook – is if it procures Saab’s Giraffe 4A or 8A-series of land radars for its low-level air surveillance coverage (and replace the Siemens Mobile Pulse Doppler Radar). The GaN TRMs of the Giraffe 4A/8A would require new support infrastructure, which can be scaled to include the Erieye ER. However, there is no such indication at this time, thus it is currently a non-factor. However, the GlobalEye is more than just the Erieye ER as it also includes an effective suite of land/sea surface surveillance sensors.

Efforts to Improve Land/Sea Surface Surveillance

In terms of surface surveillance capability, Pakistan has chosen not to concentrate its ISR capabilities into one jack-of-all-trades platform, such as the GlobalEye. Rather, these capabilities are being diffused, with a specific selection of aircraft being configured to execute surface surveillance tasks. In maritime, this will be done through the Pakistan Navy’s forthcoming ATR-72 MPAs, which – similar to the GlobalEye – will be fitted with the Leonardo Seaspray 7300E AESA radar and Star SAFIRE III EO/IR turret. This would be identical to the GlobalEye in terms of the GlobalEye’s surface surveillance capabilities.

Pakistan is essentially applying the GlobalEye capability through its AEW&C (i.e. additional Erieye and the Chinese ZDK03) and the ATR-72 MPA, at least at sea. Currently, it does not appear that Pakistan is looking to add to its ground-surveillance capabilities outside of the assets it already has, such as the King Air 350ER ISR aircraft in use by the Pakistan Army Aviation Corps. To be clear, the Seaspray-series is not a stand-off range SAR/GMTI system that could enable Pakistan to see distant targets without incurring the threat of anti-air warfare (AAW) systems. The U.S. Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System’s AN/APY-7 is the sole option in this regard, with others not offering that level of performance as SAR/GMTI systems.

Thus, the ground-surveillance element today would amount to increasing Pakistan’s counterinsurgency (COIN) capabilities (i.e. against non-state actors), but they are of limited utility for conventional operations vis-à-vis India. Furthermore, even if Pakistan were to opt for more SAR/GMTI, its choice of deployment could, at least in the long-term, be in unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV). Prior to these the PAF has been using C-130Bs modified with the Star SAFIRE III EO/IR, resulting in the C-130B providing real-time video feeds of the ground and guiding (via the BRITE Star II) laser-guided bomb (LGB) strikes by the PAF’s F-16s during Rah-e-Nijat and other COIN operations.

Pakistan’s strategy appears to be one of relying on specialized/single-role assets for ISR. Simply put, the cost of concentrating different capabilities into one aircraft incurs a high upfront cost. If Pakistan requires an aircraft for surface surveillance, it makes little sense to tie that to a $250 million multi-mission aircraft instead of two $75 million assets purely centered on an effective SAR/GMTI and EO/IR suite. However, if the need winds down, then those specialist aircraft will see limited use, and would result as sunk costs in the long-term. it also speaks to the fact that Pakistan’s procurements have been reactive, which, to be fair, were borne as a result of new operational scenarios that few countries had experienced.

Prior to COIN, Pakistan did not need many SAR/GMTI-equipped aircraft, thus there was no anticipation for it and need to incorporate it in other platforms. However, COIN pushed the induction of specialist platforms, such as armed UAVs and SAR/GMTI, and the mix of high procurement cost and urgent need meant that simpler solutions had to be procured instead of true multi-mission assets. Furthermore, the GlobalEye itself is a recent product, one built upon hindsight and Saab anticipating the need of this system in the global market. With hindsight in place, Pakistan ought to tailor its next-generation ISR system to be a multi-mission asset, but this would be a long-term (i.e. 10-15+ year) outlook.

[1] Bill Sweetman. “Counter-Stealth Radar Key To Growing AEW Market”. Aviation Week. 17 February 2016. URL: http://aviationweek.com/defense/counter-stealth-radar-key-growing-aew-market (Last Accessed: 24 February 2018).

[2] Gareth Jennings. “Saab touts GlobalEye as future E-3A replacement for NATO”. IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly. 26 February 2018. URL: http://www.janes.com/article/78152/saab-touts-globaleye-as-future-e-3a-replacement-for-nato (Last Accessed: 26 February 2018).

[3] Promotional Material. “Seaspray 7500E multi-mode AESA radar”. Leonardo. URL: http://www.leonardocompany.com/documents/63265270/65501186/mm07777_Seaspray_7500E_LQ_.pdf?download_file (Last Accessed: 24 February 2018).

[4] Ibid.

[5] Alan Warnes. “Pakistan to get more Erieyes”. Air Forces Monthly. 19 May 2017. URL: http://www.airforcesmonthly.com/2017/05/19/pakistan-to-get-more-erieyes/ (Last Accessed: 24 February 2018).

[6] Press Release. “Saab receives order for new advanced Airborne Surveillance Systems from UAE”. Saab Group. 10 November 2015. URL: https://saabgroup.com/media/news-press/news/2015-11/saab-receives-order-for-new-advanced-airborne-surveillance-systems-from-uae/ (Last Accessed: 24 February 2018).

[7] Angus Bately. “UAE, Saab Strike $1.27 Billion Erieye Deal”. 10 November 2015. URL: http://aviationweek.com/dubai-air-show-2015/uae-saab-strike-127-billion-erieye-deal (Last Accessed: 24 February 2018).

[8] Ibid.

[9] Jeremy Binnie. “IDEX 2017: UAE confirms order for third Saab GlobalEye”. IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly. 23 February 2017. URL: https://web.archive.org/web/20180130013950/http://www.janes.com/article/68189/idex-2017-uae-confirms-order-for-third-saab-globaleye (Last Accessed: 24 February 2018).

[10] Press Release. “Saab contract for surveillance system to Pakistan becomes effective”. Saab Group. 22 June 2006. URL: https://saabgroup.com/sv/media/news-press/news/2006-06/saab-contract-for-surveillance-system-to-pakistan-becomes-effective/ (Last Accessed: 24 February 2018).

[11] Press Release. “Saab renegotiate surveillance contract”. Saab Group. 28 May 2007. URL: https://saabgroup.com/media/news-press/news/2007-05/saab-renegotiate-surveillance-contract/ (Last Accessed: 24 February 2018).

[12] Alan Warnes. “Pakistan to get more Erieyes”. Air Forces Monthly. 19 May 2017.

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