When IAF jets entered the Pakistani airspace and reportedly destroyed a terror camp in Balakot on February 26, the Pakistani surveillance system did not have any inkling about it. Apparently, it exposed the chinks in the shiny armour of its ever-increasing defence budget. According to reports, Pakistan’s radars were jammed through the electronic warfare system the Indian jets were equipped with. Pakistan's military establishment has since taken quick efforts to bolster its defences by secretively buying airborne assets from friendly nations.

Military sources indicate that the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) last month took delivery of one more SAAB 2000 Erieye AEW&C aircraft, which is fourth SAAB 2000 Erieye AEW&C aircraft. On 18 May 2020, SAAB announced that it had signed a SEK 1.553 billion – or $160.5 million US – secretive deal with an undisclosed buyer for its SAAB 2000-based Erieye airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) system. SAAB said that it will deliver the order from 2020 to 2023.

SAAB had not revealed the client, stating “due to circumstances concerning the product and customer, further information about the customer will not be announced.”

The last undisclosed customer to order the SAAB 2000 Erieye AEW&C was Pakistan, which acquired three systems sometime between 2017 and 2019. SAAB had announced a SEK 1.35 billion – i.e., $139 million US – order for its AEW&C systems in May 2017.

These systems were a follow-on order to the four systems Pakistan had bought in 2007. Of the original batch, one was written-off due to a terrorist attack, leaving three Erieye AEW&C systems (following extensive repair work of two systems at Pakistan Aeronautical Complex).

In its 2017-2018 yearbook, Pakistan’s Ministry of Defence Production (MoDP) stated that it received the ‘sixth’ Erieye AEW&C at a cost of $94.95 million US. Pakistan also took delivery of three SAAB 2000 aircraft from Skyworld Aviation in November 2018.

Thus, this new SAAB order is not tied to the follow-on batch Pakistan ordered in 2017.

Currently, only Pakistan and Saudi Arabia operate the SAAB 2000 Erieye AEW&C. Pakistan operates a larger fleet and, at this stage, seems to be the largest user of this specific configuration.

If SAAB received an order from an existing user, then based on the Pakistani MoDP’s disclosure, the pricing could cover the purchase of two systems. By absorbing the upfront support costs (i.e., training, logistics, maintenance, etc), Pakistan was able to buy follow-on Erieye AEW&C units for $80-90 million US apiece.

If it is a new user, then the pricing would, at best, cover one unit. However, this scenario is unlikely as the SAAB 2000 is out of production, and for new prospective customers, SAAB is promoting its improved Erieye ER AEW&C system. Thus, the SAAB 2000 Erieye order is likely from an existing user.

The last time Saudi Arabia had received notable defence items from Sweden was in 2014, i.e., two SAAB 2000-based Erieye AEW&C. However, Swedish-Saudi defence ties faltered since that point, which makes a follow-on Pakistani order a plausible scenario. In this case, Pakistan could operate a fleet of eight to nine SAAB 2000 Erieye AEW&C by 2023, a significant expansion of its original plans for six aircraft in 2006.

SAAB states that the Erieye is an S-band active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar. It offers a range of 450 km and altitude coverage of 20 km (65,000 ft). The Erieye can horizontally monitor an area of over 500,000 sq.km. Its range at sea is 350 km, but can track targets as small as missiles in the area.

The SAAB 2000 aircraft offers an endurance of over 9.5 hours, maximum range of more than 2,000 nautical miles, cruise speed of 340 knots, and service ceiling of 30,000 ft.

This delivery of this critical military equipment to Pakistan will have dire consequence for SAAB who is in the contention for the lucrative $14 billion MMRCA deal to manufacture 114 (and maybe further in the future) fighter jets for the IAF in India. In lieu of this development, the prospects for America's Lockheed Martin's F-21 fighter has most likely jumped up manifold. India will now be cautious to hand over a deal to a company which has provided high-tech equipment to its arch nemesis Pakistan.

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