Saab is gearing up to offer both maritime patrol and airborne early warning systems to the Royal Air Force, based on the Saab 2000 platform.

The Royal Air Force’s lack of a maritime patrol aircraft, following the grounding of the Nimrod MR2 and the collapse of the MRA4 replacement program, is well known. But the service’s airborne early warning force, based on the Boeing E-3D Awacs, could be facing a similar crisis. Saab sees this as an opportunity for both its Swordfish maritime patrol aircraft and EriEye airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) platform.

Saab sees the U.K,’s need as urgent. “We believe that they will want an aircraft by the time the Queen Elizabeth is operational,” an executive says. Without antisubmarine warfare (ASW) aircraft, the carrier will require escort by Type 23 frigates on any deployment, and that fleet is already overworked. With a go-ahead this year, Saab says it could deliver an operational ASW capability by 2018.

The Swedish company is well aware that the RAF has a strong preference for the Boeing P-8A Poseidon, but questions whether the service can afford it and argues that a much smaller and less costly aircraft can be effective. Saab’s philosophy is that the MPA should dispense its sonobuoys from low altitude – eliminating heavy and bulky pressurized sonobuoy launchers – and climb to higher altitude to monitor them. Operating at low altitude with more precise sonobuoy placement, too, the MPA may not need the triple-digit quantities of buoys carried by the P-8A and planned for the MRA4.

The P-8A has become a multi-role aircraft, executives point out, with a large weapon capacity and the ability to carry the massive Raytheon APS-154 radar canoe; the Swordfish would be a pure MPA, better adapted to low-altitude work, with secondary roles in other intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions.

Saab also is proposing that the Swordfish MPA could operate alongside EriEye, which has demonstrated its ability to track tough targets such as small, high-speed boats and Jet Skis out to the radar horizon.

Boeing, meanwhile, notes that the U.K. “has to make a decision on whether to modernize or recapitalize” its Awacs fleet. In pre-Farnborough briefings, the company noted that every other Awacs operator has now committed to radar, processing and display, and flight-deck upgrades to their aircraft, keeping them common to the U.S. Block 40/45 upgrade standard. The U.K. “has not been active in upgrades,” Boeing said – a modernization program called Project Eagle was started in 2006 but later canceled – and its aircraft will become increasingly unsupportable.

Saab argues that the EriEye’s lower operating costs would justify replacing the E-3D, possibly on a lease basis. “We have one customer with two EriEyes, and we provide all their maintenance and ground support,” Aviation Week's ShowNews is told. “They fly one mission a day, and we have eight people in country.”