UAE Considers E-2Ds: The United Arab Emirates has shown interest in purchasing the Northrop Grumman-made E-2 Hawkeye aircraft. Here, an E-2D taxis on the flight line at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md. (US Navy)
WASHINGTON — Middle Eastern nations are eyeing a host of US- and other foreign-made intelligence planes for airborne early warning, a market expected to experience growing sales in the coming years, according to experts.
And as nations look to bolster their intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) fleets, the US Air Force is looking at creating a center of excellence in this area.
“There’s conversation when you look at where do we have some of the biggest shortfalls: It’s in ISR command and control,” Heidi Grant, US Air Force deputy undersecretary for international affairs, said in an interview.
“There are discussions ongoing right now [about whether] there are areas with ISR that we could team together and have some sort of center of excellence,” Grant said.
Grant characterized the talks as being in the “very initial stages.”
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) operates the Gulf Air Warfare Center, a facility that holds aerial combat training exercises. Interoperability is key when it comes to these platforms, Grant said.
“My concern is that, as our US defense budgets get smaller and smaller, the gap of operational risk is increasing,” she said. “So I’m looking at how do the partners step up.”
During the 2011 campaign in Libya, the US conducted 80 percent of the ISR missions. It also handled the majority of air-to-air refueling.
“That just jumps out at me,” Grant said. “Those are two areas where, what partners are willing to step up and take on more of the ISR role and the air-refueling role for future operations?”
Platforms of Interest
Gulf Cooperation Council members have been looking to expand their ISR capabilities for years.
“They’ve [all] been looking for years at improving ISR,” said Richard Aboulafia, vice president for analysis at the Virginia-based Teal Group consulting firm.
At the top of the United Arab Emirates ISR list is an airborne warning and control system (AWACS) aircraft.
UAE has been “wondering what to do about AWACS for years,” Aboulafia said.
UAE has eyed the Northrop Grumman E-2 Hawkeye and a Saab-made airborne early warning aircraft. The US Navy is scheduled to bring an E-2C to the Dubai Airshow.
Another less likely candidate is the EL/W-2085, a joint venture between Israel Aerospace Industries and Elta Electronics Industries of Israel, to integrate an early warning radar into a Gulfstream 550 business jet.
“Probably, the Gulfstream system would be ideal, except that it has a very high level of Israeli content, which might or might not be a problem,” Aboulafia said.
More than a dozen air forces worldwide operate Gulfstream aircraft as VIP transports.
Neighboring Saudi Arabia already operates the E-3 Sentry AWACS aircraft, and the US Air Force flies E-3s out of a forward operating base in the region.
The UAE Air Force is also bolstering its ISR inventory with the US General Atomics Predator. A deal for an undisclosed number of the unmanned aircraft was announced in February.
Middle Eastern nations are also looking to beef up maritime security capabilities.
The Boeing P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft — which is based on the commercial 737-800 and is scheduled to be at the Dubai Airshow — could also find its way into the Middle East, with Saudi Arabia and UAE the most likely candidate.
India is the only foreign government that has purchased the P-8 so far.
UAE and Qatar are also considering the Sikorsky and Lockheed Martin MH-60R anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare helicopter.