GlobalEye for HX

Saab stood for the biggest surprise so far in the HX-program, when it announced that the offer does not only include 52 single-seat 39E Gripen and 12 two-seat 39F Gripen, but two GlobalEye airborne early warning and control aircraft as well.

It’s hard to describe exactly how bizarre, and exactly how astute, the move is.

The background is obviously the way that the Finnish Air Force and MoD has written the Request for Quotations. To ensure a tough and fair competition, the quotation only sets the widest of boundaries to the delivered package (64 fighters, 7-10 billion Euros in one-time acquisition costs, annual costs to operate no bigger than current 64 aircraft strong Hornet-fleet), and then goes on to describe the concept of operations and the missions the fighters are expected to perform. This gives the companies free hands to tailor the packages offered when it comes to questions such as versions offered, sensors and weapon packages, and so forth. Apparently, it also leave open the possibility to squeeze in aircrafts other than the fighters as long as the budget allows for it. It is a daring approach from the authorities, but one that now pays off with these kinds of unconventional offers including force multipliers such as EA-18G Growlers in the Boeing package and now GlobalEyes in Saab’s.

GlobalEye AEW&C
The first GlobalEye airborne with temporary Swedish registrations and the Saab logo on the tail. Picture courtesy of Saab AB

The money game is indeed the interesting part. While Gripen is universally regarded as a cheap fighter (mind you, cheap isn’t the same thing as costing little money when it comes to fighters), it is still nothing short of shocking that Saab is able to squeeze in not only two brand new aircraft, but also the whole support structure needed to bring a new aircraft type into service and initiate training of both the flying crew and mission crew. The big question is indeed what it costs to phase in a completely new aircraft type in the Finnish Air Force? The two aircraft themselves will have a price tag measured in hundreds of millions of euros. Saab naturally isn’t sharing their calculations, but assure that this fits inside the HX-budget.

Which also include a “significant arms and sensors package” for the Gripens.

It deserve to be reiterated: it is bizarre that Saab can make a comparable offer with the same number of aircraft as the competition, and still have room for two modern AEW&C aircraft with everything they need.

But things get really strange, or rather, really elegant, once life-cycle costs are being discussed. The idea is namely not only that the GlobalEye will improve the combat effectiveness of the Gripen (and the other services, more on this below), but also that the aircraft will provide a cost-offloading effect on Air Force operations as a whole.

This cost-offloading effect, in other words, it has a positive long-term effect on the life-cycle cost from the operator’s point of view.

Fredrik Follin, GlobalEye Campaign Manager

As the GlobalEye can perform certain peacetime missions more cost effectively than fighters (and other systems it complements), Saab argues it will bring down the life-cycle cost for the Air Force as a whole by reducing the need for HX flight hours (and ensuring that they can be spent more efficiently). Is this actually possible? Considering that Saab has decided to present this possibility to the Air Force both in the preliminary RFI (presumably) and now in the RFQ, they seem rather confident. The Air Force has also likely already given some kind of tacit approval that they will take a serious look at the GlobalEye, as in case they had planned on dismissing the AEW&C out of hand this would likely have been communicated to Saab already and we would not see it in the tender at this relatively late stage.

A really interesting detail which got a somewhat ring to it following yesterday’s announcement is the blog post made by program manager major general (res.) and former Finnish Air Force commander Lauri Puranen earlier this week. Puranen discusses the cost of the project, and strongly reiterates that following the original buy, everything, and he puts further emphasis on everything, and he strongly cautions against trying to estimate any kind of acquisition costs based on publicly available figures.

It may not be credible if the flight hour costs for a modern multirole fighter are lower than those of a Hawk-trainer. In Finland, the cost of a flight hour covers everything from the salary of the Air Force Commander and the upkeep of air bases to maintenance tools and jet fuel.

He also points out that Finland won’t accept any costs at face value, but will calculate life-cycle costs based on a domestic template used, which has been proved to be correct for the current Hornet-fleet. Following Saab’s rather unconventional ideas, the question about how to calculate life-cycle costs suddenly gets renewed attention, and it isn’t difficult to see the text as an attempt at squashing the misconceptions about this topic.

Second GlobalEye
The second GlobalEye for UAE taking off on its maiden flight. Picture courtesy of Saab

What then does the GlobalEye do? In essence it is a Bombardier Global 6000, going for around 40 million USD for the normal business jet version, heavily modified and fitted with a number of sensors and operator stations in place of the normal lavish interior. The single most important sensor of these are the EriEye ER radar in the distinct ski box-installation that has become a trademark of the Swedish radar family.

The history of the EriEye deserves a short mention. Long having been involved in radar technology, Sweden, like most countries, lacked an airborne surveillance system in the 80’s. The few available where mostly large, often four-engined, aircraft with large rotating mushroom-style antennas. The only medium-sized modern aircraft was the E-2 Hawkeye, which had scored some success on the export market (and then ‘modern’ deals with an aircraft that first flew in the 1960’s). The Swedes decided that if they wanted a light airborne AEW platform, they would have to do it themselves, and the first prototype was installed aboard a surplus Metroliner they had used as a transport. This was followed by a number of orders for ever more complex installation, with both Saab 340 and 2000, and later the Embraer EMB-145 acting as platforms depending on the customer was. Of these, the Swedish Air Force operate the Saab 340-based Argus. Notably, Pakistan reportedly used their Saab 2000 EriEye to great effect during the recent clashes that lead to the downing of an Indian MiG-21. The ASC 890 Argus is no stranger to the Finnish Air Force, as it has been used both with and against Finnish Hornets in several bilateral exercises during recent years.

Swedish Air Force ASC 890 Argus coming in for landing during exercise ACE 17. Source: Hampus Hagstedt/Försvarsmakten

However, over time the EriEye has evolved. Having originally been little more than an a flying air surveillance radar, the GlobalEye is a true ‘joint’-capability, or as Saab likes to describe it: a ‘swing-role surveillance system’. This means that the aircraft is able to keep an eye not only on the air domain, but can perform sea and ground surveillance as well. Here the ErieEye ER is backed up by two secondary sensors, the ventrally-mounted Leonardo Selex ES SeaSpray 7500E AESA maritime surveillance radar with a full 360° field of vision, and the electro-optical sensor in front of it. However, the S-band EriEye ER has some new tricks up it’s sleeve as well, and when asking if it can perform JSTARS-style ground surveillance, I got the answer that the aircraft feature the:

Erieye ER with specific features for ground surveillance.

Make of that what you will, but it seems clear that the aircraft is able to simultaneously create and maintain both air, sea, and ground situational pictures, and share them with friendly forces. It is also able to command these friendly forces, in particular the fighters. This is an extremely valuable force multiplier, both in peace and in war, and something which likely everyone in the Air Force has felt was way out of our price range. The jointness of the HX-program would also be greatly supported by the GlobalEye, as e.g. the Navy’s new missiles have a range far beyond the horizon of the firing ships, creating the need for sensors with longer ranges (and there aren’t too many currently around).

Aren’t there any drawbacks then? Obviously, the biggest of which is the low number. Two is a very small number for a high-value asset such as these. The GlobalEye has a high cruise speed and an extremely long endurance, meaning that two aircraft could theoretically provide even 24/7 surveillance. Still, the loss of even one airframe would halve the force, giving poor redundancy. On the other hand, even one is still significant more than zero… The other question is if Finnish air space is too shallow for an AEW&C aircraft to be used effectively without placing it in undue risk. Here the natural answer is to place the station further back inside Swedish air space, but while it seems an obvious answer now, it might or might not be politically feasible if things turn rough. Does the Air Force want a new aircraft type in it’s inventory is another question? The Global 6000 is a reputable aircraft, and as such can be considered low risk, but it is still a significant undertaking, and not something you usually get thrown in as an extra in a fighter deal.

GlobalEye and Gripen
The sharp end of the Finnish Air Force in 2030? 39E Gripen and GlobalEye. Picture courtesy of Saab

For the first time in the competition, someone has managed to pull an ace that I honestly feel could decide the whole thing (the aforementioned Growler came close, though).

If Saab can show that the calculations surrounding the life-cycle cost really hold true.

If the Finnish Air Force conclude that stealth isn’t a must.

P.s. Gripen really must be dirt-cheap for a modern fighter…

19 thoughts on “GlobalEye for HX

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  2. halken

    Interesting. Of cause while it has great value, one should not underestimate that the advantage of a plane like the F35 is that it is a strong passive and VLO sensor in and of itself and it has first-day-of-war survive-ability against a peer foe. Those are the planes you send in to knock IAMDs like the S4/500 and similar out, while being able to defend themselves against other manned planes and ships. The Globaleye and AEWCs in general are a high value target, and will be an electronic lighthouse, so easy to detect due to the high powered radar. So if the enemy adopt the same strategy as the Chinese, they will seek to destroy the AEWC plane with a long range missile, rendering the fleet and/or planes blind. This is the weak point here. I have not seen any information regarding how the Globaleye deals with this treat – and I assume it must, as some countries in SEA has bought some or are interested, and they could meet the Chinese.
    I don’t know the price but saw something about being 340m$ pr plane for the UAE, but I don’t know what it included.
    If this becomes the solution, it will make a lot of sense to procure replacement Global 6000 planes for the AFs learjets – and also looking into getting some Swordfishs.
    Regarding platforms. I assume that the fleet of Gripen and Globaleye can be fitted under the requirement of the current budget. Globaleye is easy and cheap to maintain, as it is a bizjet platform, and have a lot more flying hours. I believe that he global 6000 can fly 160-180 hours per month. I believe that is 4x times what a F35 can deliver.
    The most important part for platforms in the future for small militaries such as the Danish and Finnish are that sensors and shooters can share their situation picture, and also so they can shoot on target data from another from another platform. The F35 already can do this, as it has the MADL interface and what one sees, all sees. In DK we talk about linking these to the frigates and military air control and a national air operations center. This is not only for sharing situation images, but also so a frigate can shoot on target information from F35 and the other way around. Finland should look into the same opportunity, as it is much more of a force mulitiplier than anything else, and it makes it possible to utilize the assets much better for small forces.
    Here in DK, I see a high degree of synergy between GlobalEye & Swordfish, and F35 for being the flying sharp end, and the frigates the sailing one. And in peacetime the GlobalEye and Swordfish can do surveillance much cheaper than the F35s, as we will not have that many of them.

    1. Jimmy

      And with Gripen they can share situation images with Sweden. Sharing data between army, ships and airplanes is nothing new and have been done in Sweden and I’m sure other places for a very long time. The finns will have great possibilities to do so with Gripen and GlobalEye…if they don’t already do so…

      Even our long time retired Viggens could do silent attacks…meaning one aircraft sharing radar data to another with his radar off. He could then fire his missiles using his wingmans radar. As far as I know the american planes have lacked this feature before MADL.

      Finland has also ordered SAAB combat systems for their navy so it makes all sense in the world to go with Gripen and GlobalEye. Datasharing is going to be very easy.

  3. MikeKiloPapa

    TBH i dont think SAAB is making this offer because they are clever, but because they are desperate!…..The Gripen is losing one fighter competition after the other, and consistently places last in the individual evaluations….with the latest Swiss report being particularly damning of Gripens capabilities.
    That means that the last and really only card SAAB has to play is low cost/ LCC…..and here they are somewhat challenged in that many countries dont accept their way of calculating LLC as valid or realistic …In fact when SAAB was trying to woo Canada with promises of CPH in the $7000 range they were summarily dismissed by the Canadians, because of their “shady” calculating methods, yielding unrealistic results not comparable to others.
    And that is SAABs biggest problem ….Even IF the Gripen is cheaper than the competition, it isnt cheap enough to compensate for the large difference in capability between it and the larger twin engined fighters like Super Hornet, Eurofighter and Rafale.
    Against the F-35 , the Gripen is even more disadvantaged since the former is getting close to the same fly-away cost as the latter. The F-35 almost certainly has much higher operating and sustainment costs (and thus higher LLC), but beset by problems though it might be, it is still a far more capable fighter and with greater potential , which for most Air Forces justifies its bigger price tag.

  4. Paralus

    MKP, you seem to imply the fighter competitions are somehow balanced and open. You can almost see the US gov’t’s finger on the scale in all of these cases. I doubt there has ever been as much diplomatic pressure and economic ‘benefits’ offered in favor of a fighter program in the West as has been the case for the F35.

    the entire aircraft has been divied up between so many sub-contractors in so many US states and allied nations that it is almost as naked as the F104 bribery scandals of the 60’s. It is the aeronautic equivalent of a ponzi scheme.

    “Country A, if you choose the F35, then your companies, A and B, will make part X and X,mod. 2 for the F35. If we sell 4000 fighters, the cost of the fighter goes down for you AND business goes up for companies A and B. Everybody wins!”

    then there is the ever so slight suggestion behind closed doors that ‘Well, the Gripen E is less expensive to purchase and operate, but it is powered by an American F414 *cough* and it sure would be a shame if the just-in-time logistics of GE were affected by export regulations *cough* by US Customs. Now compare that to the robust array of subcontractors for the F35 and the plentiful access and interchangeability with allied nations you would have if you were to select the F35.”

    Just look at what the US did with the Croatia fighter bid. The Croatians accepted the Israeli F16 Barak bid, but the US stomped all over it.

    These are not open competitions based solely upon performance and cost, there are far more issues at play that we get to see out in the open

  5. “If Saab can show that the calculations surrounding the life-cycle cost really hold true.”

    I thought you said that’s your job? Do that and come back to us (Sweden).

  6. halken

    The LLC of the F35 is far higher than the others. But 1) I’ll make the Russians think twice before starting a conflict, as it will be very costly for the Russian air force in losses – thats why it is the best plane for small countries like Denmark and Finland who are in close proximity to the bear. The cheapest war is the one you dont have to fight. 2) The attrition rate for F35 will be much lower in the first days of a war for the F35, and that mean you can survive until the cavalry arrives. With a gen4, it will be unavoidable with heavy losses of pilots and planes, and supporting infrastructure. It may not even include abandoning Finish airspace.
    The F35 makes the stakes more equal for small nations against the bear. Fortunately Russia does not have the means to produce any capable 5gen platform in numbers, so they are at a disadvantage, that is fairly sustainable.
    This is also a lot better than the F18+growler or Gripen+ Globaleye, as the last will be a high value target.

    1. FkDahl

      How can you claim increased survivability for a maintenance queen like the F-35? In case of war with Russia (and not the soon to be Swedistan) all airbases will be hammered with missiles in which the Russians are undisputed world leaders. After day one no hangars left. Roads yes. Even one Gripen (or F-18) on a road strip somewhere even if not taking off has much larger impact on Russian tactical behavior than 64 F-35 under rubble.
      The F-35 is a light attack aircraft designed for low X-band radar crossection in the forward direction. Datalinked aircraft flying abreast will find it, as will long wave length radars – which the Russians have.

      1. halken

        Because the enemy can’t see it and you can’t fight what you can’t see. Thats the single number one challenge for any plane. If it ain’t coming back from the missions due to high attrition rate, then the rest doesn’t matter. Against a numerically superior adversary, that becomes even more important. Here we are also talking primarily about the first days of war and the goal for any small nation should be to become like a hedgehog. Too much trouble for the price until the cavalry arrives. A Gripen that survives is not much of a treat, as they can detect it and shoot it down when it takes off, if they have air superiority and AWACs. A F35 on road somewhere that cannot be detected is much more of an asset in that case than the Gripen.
        I believe that the F35 can also operate from highways, but can’t find any linkage right now.
        The F35 is not designed only for low X-band cross section but it is also also. The advantage is that most radars and seekers is x-band and you can’t shoot what you can’t see and cant lock on to. Then you may know there is something out there, but thats not enough to que a missile. Also your not taking into account that the F35 also has EW. Make no mistake, the F35 has a smaller RCS than the F22.
        The F35 is the most expensive – but also the most capable and most survivable. For front line countries such as Denmark and Finland, it is the best choice as it ensures our fighters survive the first day of war and it makes it easier to fight a numerically superior enemy with 4gen planes.
        Gripen is a good plane, and for the Swiss and others it should be perfect, but it is not 5th gen, its not VLO and it does not have the sensors or sensor fusion or MADL like link.

    2. NickRick

      The USA don’t seem to agree on “The cheapest war is the one you don’t have to fight” starting a new war each presidency 😉
      Since the f35 will be in the hangar once the enemy bombed the approx. 4 airstrips they can start from they will probably survive “that mean you can survive until the cavalry arrives”. Just that there are no cavalry, just total air superiority for the enemy..

  7. Peter Ball

    The Erieye/Globaleye has been compromised by Chinese espionage. No doubt that, for the right price, and Russia likely paid, its performance parameters are for sale. I would not touch that system with a ten-foot pole.

  8. someone

    Given the rumors from Brazil of the Gripen E radar being the main cause of delays, the GlobalEye can be seen less as a bonus and more as a mitigating factor.

  9. pH_7

    Would be nice to know that are the GlobalEye planes for airforce or are the LCC calculated so that those would replace border guard Dorniers.
    Because if they dont then it would make sence in future to replace Dorniers with two GlobalEye planes if Gripen is selected in HX. Then Finland would have four pieces of these planes and they would be in swing role use as SAAB describes.
    What are the operating costs for one GlobalEye? Dornier costs are about 6000€/hour including everything.

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