Firms vie for defence contract

Two US aerospace and defence firms remain hopeful of supplying the UAE with a long-term airborne reconnaissance system.

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Two US aerospace and defence firms remain hopeful of supplying the UAE with a long-term airborne reconnaissance system despite seeing their rival, Saab of Sweden, land an initial contract from the emirate during the Dubai Air Show. The UAE Air Force and Air Defence earlier this month agreed to purchase two Saab 340AEW reconnaissance aircraft for ?148.3 million (Dh822.8m), part of a major defence spending programme that has included fighter jets and defensive missile systems.

The Saab planes are equipped with radar that can detect missiles, aircraft and ships faster than land-based radar. While announcing the purchase, Armed Forces officials stressed that the Saab planes would provide training and experience in such systems before a permanent system was chosen. Saab constituted a "fast solution that achieves the current Air Force operational requirements", said Major Gen Pilot Faris Mohamed al Mazrouei, the Chief of Logistics Staff at the General Headquarters of the Armed Forces. "We have to go for a solution because we need to train our people."

Both Boeing and Northrop Grumman said they had taken solace in the comments, which suggested a bigger contract could follow. "We feel this decision truly fills an interim requirement they had, and that the long-term permanent airborne early warning and control solution is really going after state-of-the-art, fully interoperable advanced radar and advanced capabilities which the interim solution does not provide, but would be provided in [Northrop's] E-2D Advanced Hawkeye," said Jerry Spruill, the director of UAE airborne early warning and control programmes at Northrop Grumman.

The E-2D is the same aircraft the US navy will deploy in the Gulf and could theoretically give the UAE increased interoperability with its US ally. Gen al Mazrouei called the aircraft "an ongoing project" that was still being tested. Tim Norgart, a business development director for airborne systems at Boeing Integrated Defence Systems, touted Boeing's airborne early warning aeroplane, which is the only jet-engine version in the competition. It also has an electronically scanned radar like Saab, rather than Northrop's mechanically rotating system. He said Boeing was in a strong position to overcome Saab's propeller-driven aircraft, calling it a "smaller, less capable plane".

But Sten Soderstrom, the vice president of sales and marketing at Saab's defence division, said his firm was "very well positioned" to take the next procurement because of its leadership in electronically scanned radars. "The UAE wants the most modern technology," he said. "Some competitors are at the beginning of this technology, where we have 15 years of experience."