Pakistan becomes the fifth nation to fly the eye-in-the sky, raising hopes that SA will be sixth – and in time for 2010.Pakistan has become the fifth country to acquire the software-driven airborne Erieye surveillance system from Saab, the Swedish defence vendor.
This raises hopes at the company that SA may lease three or four of the aircraft for the 2010 Soccer World Cup.
Pakistan took possession of the most recent iteration of the radar plane, the Saab 2000, late last month and will primarily use the aircraft to patrol and monitor its porous, mountainous border with Afghanistan.
“This is a large and strategically important deal for Saab. It is in line with our business strategy within the area of security and surveillance, and it shows Saab`s competence in system integration,” says Saab Surveillance Systems MD Karl Lyth.
Erieye was developed as a military system, but is increasingly being used for civil applications such as airspace surveillance, maritime and border surveillance and for countering smuggling.
Brazil seized 84 aircraft used for illegal purposes such as drug running in the first month it operated Erieye and closed 30 illegal airfields.
“Saab 2000 is a much larger platform [than the Saab 340 previously used] with more space and greater capacity,” says Saab Aerotech project manager Joakim Andersson, who was in charge of developing the aircraft.
“It gives the opportunity of carrying more equipment, for example more sensors, electronic intelligence and self-protection,” he adds. “An important strength of Saab 2000 is that it has a very long patrol time; it can remain airborne for more than nine hours without refuelling.
“Another important factor is that the platform must meet the demands of take off and landing in high temperatures and high-altitude airfields,” Andersson says.
The intelligence in the surveillance platform is made up of the Erieye mission system, which was developed by Saab Microwave Systems. The system includes a radar, command and control, identification friend or foe, and a ground-based mission training system.
The case for SA
Saab Surveillance Systems director Peter Hultin says the Erieye`s software-driven Active Electronically Scanned Array radar gives users the ability to comprehensively and simultaneously survey the air, sea surface and ground environment in a radius of up to 450km around the aircraft to which it is fitted – or about 450 000km2.
By contrast, ground radar can perhaps scan the near-ground environment to a range of about 50km, taking into account the curvature of the earth. Using Doppler radar, Erieye can accurately track hovering helicopters flying nap-of-the-earth or “rubber duck” type boats and jet skis in the surf at extended ranges. This is a valuable feature when employing Erieye in the search-and rescue role or for detecting piracy or illegal fishing activities, says Saab.
Hultin points out that a single aircraft can monitor approximately a quarter of SA`s lowest airspace at any given time, versus a 1/200 for ground radar. “Two aircraft, one based in Gauteng and the other in the Cape, can observe almost all of SA in as fast as half an hour: 10 minutes to warn the systems and take off, and 20 to reach orbit,” he adds.
In addition, Erieye can complement or supplement existing ground radar and even replace ground-based air traffic control in case of natural calamity, power outage or terrorist attack.
The platform is also ideal to help impose economic and environmental exclusion zones, around nature and fishery reserves, for example. Similarly, it can assist in enforcing no-fly zones in peacekeeping operations, around VIP meetings such as those of the G8, critical infrastructure such as nuclear plants or major events, typified by the 2010 FIFA Soccer World Cup.