Saudi Snoops: RSAF Turns to King Airs
In recent wars, a lot of high tech gear has been upstaged by a surprising contender. Countries like the USA, Canada, Britain, Egypt, Iraq, and others are flying low-end turboprop business aircraft fitted with an array of sensors and a small crew. They’re cheap to buy, don’t use technology that makes export approval difficult, and are easy to maintain. Operating them is well within the capabilities of any country with an air force. Their sensors also offer more diversity and power than all but the highest-cost UAVs, in exchange for having just 1/2 to 1/3 of a high-end UAV’s mission endurance. No wonder many countries see them as a good complement to, or substitute for, existing UAV offerings.
Saudi Arabia has the money and clout to buy the expensive stuff. A number of years ago, they had 3 of their military’s Boeing 707 derivatives converted into RE-3 TASS planes for light battlefield surveillance, and COMINT/SIGINT(intercepting enemy communications and electronic signals) roles. Unfortunately, those planes will be in the shop until 2015, and they need a quick substitute that will still be useful when the RE-3s come back. Guess what they picked…
Contracts & Key Events
Aug 15/12: The US DSCA announces [PDF] an official request from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA). The Saudis want to buy:
- Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) suites to be provided and installed in 4 King Air 350ER aircraft, which the Saudis themselves will provide.
- 4 new King Air 350ER ISR planes with enhanced PT6A-67A engines and the same ISR suites pre-installed.
- 10 Link-16 capable data link systems and associated ground support.
- Ground Stations for processing the data.
- Plus spare and repair parts, support equipment, publications and technical data, personnel training and training equipment, aircraft delivery, and other forms of U.S. Government and contractor support.
Each ISR suite includes:
- A modern, fully qualified CNS/ATM cockpit.
- RF-7800M-MP High Frequency Radios with encryption.
- AN/ARC-210 VHF/ UHF/ Satellite Communication Transceiver Radios with Have Quick II and encryption.
- A high speed Datalink.
- An AN/APX-114/119 Identification Friend or Foe Transponder.
- Embedded Global Positioning System/Inertial Navigations Systems (GPS/INS) with a Selective Availability Anti-spoofing Module (SAASM) to make jamming difficult.
- AN/AAR-60 Infrared Missile Warning and AN/ALE-47 Countermeasures defensive systems.
- An unspecified Electro-Optical Sensor.
- An unspecified SIGINT(SIGnals Intelligence) System.
- An unspecified Synthetic Aperture Radar to scan the ground.
The estimated cost is up to $257 million, but contract prices will depend on successful contract negotiations. As the DSCA puts it:
“The RSAF needs additional ISR capability to provide persistent, real-time route surveillance, facility, infrastructure and border security, counter-terrorism and smuggling interdiction, support for naval and coastal operations, internal defense and search and rescue operations. Currently, the RSAF’s RE-3 aircraft is in depot maintenance and will not be available until after 2015. In the interim, the King AIR 350ER-ISR aircraft will allow the RSAF to perform a portion of the RE-3 mission. All systems will be compatible with and will continue to supplement the capabilities of the RSAF RE-3 aircraft. The KSA will have no difficulties absorbing and using these King Air ISR aircraft.”