SINGAPORE — Maritime Patrol Aircraft, or MPA, based on business jet platforms have taken prominence at the IMDEX Asia maritime and defense exhibition in Singapore, with manufacturers touting capability at lower cost, along with willingness to customize their solutions to customer requirements as their main selling points.

Saab and IAI devoted significant amounts of floor space at their IMDEX Asia booths to their products, the Swordfish and EL/I-3360, respectively, with both emphasizing their willingness to customize and fine-tune their aircraft according to customer requirements.

Saab recently announced a significant increase in the stores carrying capacity of the Swordfish, with the Bombardier Global Express 6000 business jet it is based on now being cleared to carry up to four RBS-15 anti-ship missiles or six lightweight torpedoes on four external hard points.

It also says that the high level of commonality between the Swordfish and the Globaleye airborne early warning and control aircraft it is currently building for the United Arab Emirates means that development work on the Swordfish is already 70 percent complete.

Saab’s Director of Marketing and Sales Gary Shand told Defense News that the company has carried out flight tests with the company’s own Global 6000 to validate its performance at low-level flight regimes that MPAs can find themselves flying at on a regular basis, which is not the typical flight profile business jet manufacturers have in mind when designing the jets.

At the show, IAI-Elta’s Director of Marketing and Sales Igo Licht told Defense News its EL/I-3360 MPA based on Global Express 5000 was developed as the result of a potential customer’s requirement when it was unveiled in early 2015.

The EL/I-3360 is also capable of carrying external stores on four external hardpoints, with the model on display at IMDEX carrying the Boeing AGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missile and self-protection pods. Licht said that IAI’s strength is its willingness to "fine tune its solution to a specific requirement" for its customer.

The company has extensive experience in adapting business jets in special mission aircraft, with its Conformal Airborne Early Warning system built on a Gulfstream G550 business jet already in operation with Israel, Singapore and Italy. IAI has also previously modified the Global Express 5000 into an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platform for India.

Both companies refused point blank to discuss Singapore’s MPA program, but it has been reported that Singapore is looking for a maritime patrol aircraft to replace its fleet of five turboprop Fokker 50 Enforcer Mk.2 aircraft, which have been in service since the mid-1990s.

These carry the A244-S lightweight torpedo and the AGM-84 Harpoon in the anti-submarine and anti-ship role respectively and are fitted with a sea search radar, electro-optical turret and an Electronic Support Measures suite.

Singapore has also used its Fokkers extensively in the anti-piracy role over the Strait of Malacca and deployed an aircraft to the Gulf of Aden in 2011, the latter as part of the multinational Combined Task Force 151 set up in response to the growing piracy problem off Somalia.

When asked about the potential acquisition, a spokesperson from Singapore’s defense ministry referred Defense News to a statement made earlier this year by Singapore’s Chief of Navy Rear-Admiral Lai Chung Han, who said that Singapore "is conducting engineering studies for the next generation MPA to replace the Fokker 50."

Both Saab and IAI have significant past dealings with Singapore, which has acquired a reputation as a discerning but very secretive buyer of military equipment. Singapore also has very close military ties with Israel, which helped set up Singapore’s armed forces in the late 1960s and both countries today undertake close defense R&D cooperation.

It has been suggested that Boeing’s P-8 Poseidon or Japan’s Kawasaki P-1 are also potential contenders for Singapore’s requirement, however multiple sources have told Defense News that Singapore wants an MPA system where it retains the ability to tailor the onboard equipment for its specific requirements.

The sources also say that Singapore’s MPA requirement will most likely be for four aircraft to be delivered in the early 2020s and need to be able to deploy sonobuoys. The country’s search for a Fokker replacement was known as far back as 2010, when it was reported that it had requested information about stored Lockheed-Martin P-3 Orions and putting them through an avionics and structural upgrade similar to what Taiwan has done.

Defense News understands that Singapore also looked closely at the EL/I-3360 at around the same time, which was then based around the Bombardier Q400 turboprop, but subsequently cooled its interest

Mike Yeo is the Asia correspondent for Defense News. He wrote his first defense-related magazine article in 1998 before pursuing an aerospace engineering degree at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia. Following a stint in engineering, he became a freelance defense reporter in 2013 and has written for several media outlets.

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