Saab eyeing up the African MPA market
Jon Lake looks at Saab's offerings to African maritime aircraft market and concludes that it is still the cheaper, 'lower end' solutions that are expected to be most in demand.
Though Saab is now energetically marketing its Swordfish maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) mission system on the Bombardier Global 6000 ultra-long-range business jet and the Q400 turboprop regional airliner, the company’s earlier maritime offerings, based on the Saab 340 and Saab 2000, remain ‘current’.
At the ninth Africa Aerospace and Defence show in September 2016, Saab exhibited
its maritime surveillance aircraft (MSA) demonstrator, which is based on the 340B+.
The company is understood to be promoting the Saab 340 MSA to meet a currently unfunded South African Air Force (SAAF) requirement to replace the elderly C-47TP Turbo Dakota aircraft operated by No35 Squadron.
The Saab 340 formed the basis of the company’s first maritime aircraft, with the Japan Coast Guard having placed contracts for an eventual total of four Saab 340B+ search and rescue (SAR) aircraft, known as the Saab 340 SAR-200.
Saab saw a potential market for anywhere between 50-100 similar Saab 340 and Saab 2000-based maritime surveillance aircraft over a 15-20 year period, and offered to completely re-life and convert airframes to the new role as they reached the end of their airline service.
Accordingly, the company took a former Mesaba Airlines/Northwest Airlink 340B and converted it to serve as the Saab 340MSA demonstrator, equipped with a Telephonics 1700B synthetic aperture radar and a new retractable multiple StarSafire HD forward-looking infrared sensor.
The aircraft flew in its new configuration in mid-2011. Basic endurance was quoted as being six-and-a-half hours but an increase to eight hours was possible with the addition of auxiliary fuel tanks.
The Saab 340MSA represented a cost-effective coastal and blue water surveillance and long-range SAR aircraft, but one that lacked the anti-submarine and anti-surface vessel warfare capabilities of more expensive MPAs.
By July 2012, however, Saab was proposing just such an aircraft in the shape of its Swordfish MPA, a derivative of the Saab 2000, equipped with a Selex Seaspray 7500 maritime surveillance radar, Ultra Electronics active acoustic system, and a FLIR Systems high-definition electro-optical/infrared sensor pod. Whereas the 340 MSA had featured a single mission operator’s console, the Saab 2000 had three (or optionally four), and also added a rotary sonobuoy launcher and multi-static acoustic system.
Eyeing a future UK requirement, the manufacturer promoted the Swordfish to the UK MoD, with commercial Saab 2000 operator, Eastern Airways, offering in-service support. The aircraft was to have been armed with Saab torpedoes, and there were also discussions around the Stingray torpedo.
In the face of a clear preference towards new-build, in-production aircraft by some customers, and with a requirement for longer range and greater capabilities, Saab next looked to integrate its Swordfish mission system on larger platforms, with longer range and endurance, higher performance, and greater weapons capabilities.
In February 2016, Saab announced that its latest Swordfish mission system would be offered on the Bombardier Global 6000 business jet and the Q400 turboprop, offering a new dimension in terms of persistence and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capability.
The Global 6000 Swordfish leverages off Saab’s Globaleye airborne early warning platform, with which it shares two-thirds commonality – including the same Seaspray 7500E maritime radar and Star Safire 380 electro/optical turret and the same BOP countermeasures equipment.
The aircraft has four or five mission consoles and can spend 12 hours on station 200nm out. Alternatively, at 1,000nm range, the aircraft has an eight-and-a-half-hour endurance with a SAR payload on its middle stations, or five-and-a-half hours with antisubmarine warfare weapons. The aircraft can carry four torpedoes or air-to-surface missiles.
Saab claims the aircraft will cost one third less than a Boeing P-8, with 50% lower life cycle costs.
The Q400 Swordfish is a similarly high-end solution, with the same sensors as the G600 Swordfish, but with slightly less endurance, only two torpedoes, and a correspondingly lower price tag.
Despite promoting the new Bombardier platforms, Saab is still looking at a 340MSA product, and is still in active discussions with a number of potential customers around the world, not least in Africa.