RAF FAIRFORD, England — Saab is considering proposing an alternative to Boeing’s 737 Wedgetail for the United Kingdom’s future airborne early warning aircraft, but it isn’t ready to say which plane it will choose to host its radar if a program goes forward, the Swedish company’s top executive confirmed to Defense News on July 13.
“We are working with partners and others to try to find a solution,” Saab CEO Håkan Buskhe said during an interview at the Royal International Air Tattoo. “We are confident that we have a good system. … We are good in integration and could deliver according to time [constraints], probably much more affordably with better technology.”
Defense News was the first to report that Saab and Airbus specifically had discussed a partnership that would bring together Saab’s Erieye radar and an Airbus aircraft.
Buskhe declined to confirm whether the company was in talks with Airbus, instead saying more broadly that it was speaking to a number of platform providers.
“First of all our sensors and our system integration is fantastic. We can see stealth aircraft from hundreds and hundreds of kilometers and follow them and target them and the same mode for land, air, at the same time,” he said.
Its GlobalEye aircraft — a modified Bombardier Global 6000 business jet with a suite of integrated sensors including an extended-range version of the Erieye radar, and that’s one one option, but “we are also open if there would be other platforms," he added.
“We don’t compromise quality and efficiency,” he said. “From that, we are open to discussions to bring that technology for example into the U.K. and build them that.”
The United Kingdom is considering an order of new airborne early warning planes to replace its aging Boeing E-3D Sentry aircraft. In June, the Times newspaper reported that the U.K. government preferred to sole source the Wedgetail from Boeing.
One member of Parliament — Julian Lewis, who heads its Defence Committee — wrote an open letter to British Defence Procurement Minister Guto Bebb, urging the Ministry of Defence to open a wider competition, citing Boeing’s 2017 pursuit of tariffs against Bombardier that would have hurt a plant in Northern Ireland.
However, on July 12, Reuters reported that the MoD still leaned toward the sole-source plan and intended to award Boeing a contract for four to six Wedgetail aircraft in the coming weeks, valued at an estimated $1 billion.
If the United Kingdom does end up sole sourcing the Wedgetail, Buskhe said, Saab would “respect the government’s decision” and look for other potential business opportunities.
Valerie Insinna is Defense News' air warfare reporter. She previously worked the Navy/congressional beats for Defense Daily, which followed almost three years as a staff writer for National Defense Magazine. Prior to that, she worked as an editorial assistant for the Tokyo Shimbun’s Washington bureau.