Electronic Weapons: Bigger, Better And More Endurance

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November 25, 2021: In late 2021 the Swedish Air Force ordered two of the new GlobalEye AEW (airborne early warning)/ELINT (Electronic Intelligence) system to replace its two 1990s era Erieye AEW systems carried in a smaller twin-turboprop Saab 340 aircraft. Both the Erieye radar and associated electronics were designed and built in Sweden. The Erieye AEW system was also available in the Brazilian EMB 145 twin-jet regional aircraft. This 21-ton aircraft is used for Erieye AEW by Brazil, Mexico, and Greece. Most Erieye AEW export customers used the Saab 340 or the larger (22-ton) Saab-2000 turboprop regional airliner.

Globaleye entered service in 2019 and uses the upgraded Erieye ER radar which can detect aircraft over 400 kilometers distant and do so in greater detail. Erieye ER can detect and track more aircraft at one time and better deal with ECM (electronic countermeasures) carried on detected aircraft. Another new feature is the ability to detect ballistic missile launches as well. Globaleye includes a maritime search radar as well in addition to more SIGINT (Signals intelligence) equipment for detecting and identifying a wide range of radars and ECM equipment. Since a combined AEW/maritime search/SIGINT system is heavier and needs more space, as well as operating farther from land, Globaleye is carried in the larger 45-ton Global 6000 aircraft which has a cruising speed of 900 kilometers an hour and endurance of about ten hours. Like the basic Erieye system, Globaleye can be carried in any number of similar twin-engine jet or turboprop aircraft. The two GlobalEye aircraft for Sweden will apparently use the Global 6000 aircraft so the aircraft can stay in the air longer over the Baltic Sea, where Sweden must deal with an increasingly aggressive and well-equipped Russian air force and navy.

While Sweden was the first customer for the Erieye system, the UAE (United Arab Emirates) was the first to order GlobalEye, based on their experience with two Erieye systems they ordered in 2009. The Erieye system is built around an Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar which consists of thousands of tiny radars that can be independently aimed in different directions. This is like the AESA radar used on the American JSTARS aircraft, a system that could locate vehicles moving on the ground. The Swedish AESA is cheaper because it's built like a long bar, mounted on top of the aircraft. This means the radar can only see, in a 120-degree arc, off both sides of the aircraft. A 60-degree arc in the front and back is uncovered. The Erieye ER radar can spot large aircraft out to nearly 500 kilometers, and more common fighter-sized aircraft at about 400 kilometers. The UAE used their Erieye aircraft to manage air campaigns, including the one underway in Yemen since early 2015. The primary use for UAE AEW aircraft is to deter an attack by Iran and if that does not work, to manage an aerial campaign against Iran.

With all that in mind, the UAE ordered new Globaleye systems in 2015, while Globaleye was still in development. Given the UAE’s experience with the reliability of Erieye, it seemed a good idea to be first in line for the new version. Globaleye completed development and testing in 2019 and the UAE received the first one in early 2020.

At the end of 2020 the UAE ordered two more GlobalEye AEW systems for about $500 million each. All six of the UAE GlobalEye systems use the Bombardier 6000 jet which can stay in the air longer and proved effective in detecting Iranian air and naval activity in the Persian Gulf. The UAE also backs a wider program to link ground and air-based surveillance radars of GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) states (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE) into a cooperative surveillance network that would provide all GCC members with better information on that is going on in the skies over their nations and the Persian Gulf in general. Saab told the UAE that they could help with integrating Globaleye data into the new GCC system because both Erieye and Globaleye were designed to be used by NATO members and integrated into the joint NATO air defense system. The 2020 recognition of Israel by the UAE makes possible the incorporation of Israeli data into the GCC system as well.

The first two UAE Erieye systems were carried in the 13-ton Saab 340 airliner, which had a cruising speed of 290 kilometers an hour and was able to stay in the air about five hours per sortie. This was the aircraft used when Erieye was introduced in the late 1990s. Saab had been working on a lightweight AESA AEW radar since the 1980s, as was Israel and the United States. The Erieye ER used in Globaleye was a major upgrade, as well as the addition of maritime search and SIGINT capabilities.

The UAE appreciated the Globaleye using a Canadian Bombardier Global 6000, which is a business jet that normally carries 13 passengers plus a crew of two. The Globaleye version can carry a payload of 2.6 tons which is sufficient to cover a maritime search radar, the Erieye AEW radar and other electronic sensors.

 


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