Saturday, 8 September 2012

Saab bringing 340 MSA to AAD

Saab is bringing its Saab 340 Maritime Security Aircraft (MSA) to the Africa Aerospace and Defence (AAD) exhibition later this month, in the aircraft’s second public appearance after the Farnborough Air Show in July. Saab is offering the aircraft to fulfil the South African Air Force’s requirement for new maritime patrol aircraft under Project Saucepan.

The Saab 340 MSA will spend 25 hours travelling 10 000 km over five days to get to Air Force Base Waterkloof outside Pretoria. It will depart Linkoping, Sweden, and fly to Europe, with a rest stop in Italy. It will then proceed to Egypt and fly along the east coast of Africa, including Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique, before landing at Waterkloof. The aircraft will be on display until the evening of Sunday September 23 and will depart for Sweden the following morning. Saab test pilot Magnus Fredriksson said the aircraft would arrive on the Sunday before the show, which starts on September 19.

Although the 340 MSA will only be on static display during AAD, the mission system will be up and running, allowing potential customers to view it in operation. Although the aircraft is coming out exclusively for AAD as South Africa is the prime focus, Saab is hoping to attract interest from the numerous foreign delegations that will be attending the exhibition. In particular, the aircraft will be promoted to the Turkish, Argentine and Vietnamese delegations.

Philip Willcock, Senior Marketing Executive: Air – Sub-Saharan Africa at Saab South Africa, said that Saab was hoping to attract interest in the 340 MSA from all over the world at AAD. Saab estimates a worldwide market for between 50 and 100 aircraft in the 340 MSA class over the next 15-20 years.

Willcock said that all Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries with coastlines are potential customers, such as Namibia, Angola, Mozambique, Tanzania and Kenya.

In South Africa, the Air Force has Project Saucepan underway, which seeks to find a replacement for its C-47TP maritime patrol aircraft. The project was signed off by the minister of defence in February but Saab is still awaiting a formal document from the project team. Willcock said that an ideal number of 340 MSAs for South Africa would be five, as five aircraft would be able to adequately cover the country’s coastline.

Saab is looking to fit South African made sensors onto the aircraft in order to maximise local content. Willcock said that Saab is teaming with Cobham to supply the satellite communications system and Carl Zeiss to supply electro optical equipment. In addition, the 340 MSA offered to South Africa would be equipped with the indigenous Link ZA data link.

Johan Rättvall, who is in charge of Saab 340 MSA marketing, said that the main markets for the 340 MSA are Latin America, Africa and Asia. After AAD, he said the aircraft would be displayed at Latin America Aerospace and Defence (LAAD) in April next year, the Paris Air Show in June and Dubai Air Show in November. The MSA demonstrator - which was built in 1998 and operated by Mesaba Airlines in Northwest Airlink colours until 2011 - is available for sale.

Rättvall said that over the last decade, many countries have realised how important the sea is in generating wealth, whether it is trade or fishing – 90% of world trade is conducted at sea. Rattval said that piracy and other illegal activities have created a rapidly growing market for maritime surveillance. “Saab as a defence and security company hopes to be part of that growing market,” he said. “Africa is one of the more interesting regions.” Indeed, piracy is rife off West Africa and in the Gulf of Aden and nations in the region have been purchasing maritime surveillance aircraft – Nigeria and Ghana recently bought Diamond DA 42 Guardian aircraft while countries with the European Union Naval Force fly P-3 Orions and other maritime patrol aircraft on the east coast.

The 340 MSA is not just a military platform and is being offered to coast guards as well – in fact, the first customer for the type was the Japan Coast Guard, which bought two aircraft in the late 1990s and then another two. The decision to pursue the 340 MSA was taken a few years ago when it was realised that conversions for organisations like the Japan Coast Guard were not one off orders and there was a dedicated market for this type of aircraft. The increase in terrorism around the world and the rise in homeland security spending were further incentives to develop the type, Saab said.

The 340 MSA is also offered for search and rescue, oil spill and pollution detection, fisheries inspection, counter smuggling surveillance, illegal immigrant control, transportation, medical evacuation and exclusive economic zone monitoring. There are no plans to arm the 340 MSA, as it is a dedicated surveillance platform.

The 340 MSA features a number of sensors for day and night operations, including electro-optical sensors and a 360° search radar. Saab has installed the Telephonics RBR-1700B X-band radar, with a maximum range of 120 nautical miles, and a FLIR Systems Star Safire III infrared turret, but these can be changed to other designs. Other avionics include an automatic identification system, satellite communications and mission management system. Optional extras include a side-looking airborne radar, V/UHF direction finder, UV/infrared line scanner, larger windows and an air drop door.

Maximum cruise speed is 480 km/h with an endurance of 6.5 hours and a maximum range 2 400 km, but this can be extended with optional auxiliary fuel tanks, for an endurance of around nine hours.

Willcock said that all of the 450 Saab 340 airliners built could be converted to MSA configuration. The conversion process involves rebuilding the airframe and overhauling the engines, resetting airframe hours to zero, and giving the aircraft a 45 000 hour or 30 year service life.

According to Willcock, that the 340 MSA is a cost effective platform as it uses a proven converted airliner airframe, but the 340 MSA mission system can be installed on just about any aircraft, as Saab has done with the Erieye airborne early warning system. He emphasised that the cost of ownership of the 340 MSA is low as the aircraft is in commercial service and there is a large spares market. Saab earlier estimated a unit price of US$20 million. Willcock added that the aircraft has proven reliability, with dispatch reliability of 98.3%.

Saab is just one of many contenders in maritime surveillance aircraft market. Visiongain last year estimated that the airborne maritime patrol market segment was worth more than US$6.5 billion for 2011 and US$78 billion for the ten year period through 2021. It projected robust growth in the segment. For example, L-3 expects to sell around 150 Spydr surveillance aircraft and said it had identified several potential buyers in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. The company brought the Spydr out to South Africa last year.

Smaller, but more expensive than the Saab product, a basic Beech King Air 350ER system includes maritime search radar, electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) sensors, AIS and onboard mission workstations with options for a data link and drop hole. The aircraft has an endurance of up to nine hours. There are a number of King Airs currently operated in the maritime surveillance role, with the most recent being the MARS King Air 350ER for the US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) being built by Sierra Nevada Corporation at a cost of over US$22 million per aircraft.

Malta’s Armed Forces recently took delivery of a second new B200 from Aero Data of Germany, who won the contract to supply these aircraft at 12.2 million Euros each in Maritime Surveillance configuration.

Another contender in the airborne maritime surveillance market, and which is also being promoted to South Africa, is the C-295MPA/ASW Persuader. This features the Fully Integrated Tactical System (FITS) mission suite, comprising of a search radar, electro-optical/infrared sensor, magnetic anomaly detector, four multifunction consoles, sonobuoy or flare and marker launcher and three hardpoints for torpedoes, anti-submarine munitions or depth charges. Chile and Portugal have ordered the maritime patrol variant.

Some other examples or short/medium range coastal/exclusive economic zone surveillance aircraft are the Cessna Reims 406, Viking Twin Otter, Bombardier Dash 8, Casa 212 and CN-235MP, RUAG Dornier Do-228, ATR-42/72MP and Fokker F-50.

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