July 14, 2004: Pakistan has taken a big leap to strengthen its fast depleting air power by securing a nod from Sweden to sell Islamabad an Airborne
Early Warning and Control System (AEW&CS), informed sources said. This state-of-the-art system will also augment Pakistan Navy’s existing potential
for maritime and tactical surveillance, the sources added. Close to final approval is Pakistan’s decision to acquire 14 SAAB 2000 aircraft from
Sweden. Seven of these aircraft will be dedicated for the PAF’s AEW&CS while the remaining seven will be acquired by the PIA to replace its fleet of
Fokker aircraft, which have already been grounded, the sources said.
Several Fokker-related incidents, including the last year’s crash that killed the then chief of air staff, air marshal Mushaf Ali Mir, and 17 other
PAF officials, the PIA had decided last year to sell its fleet of 11 aircraft and replace them with compatible ones. The seven SAAB 2000 that will
replace the ageing Fokkers on the PIA’s heavily subsidized socio-economic routes will help the airline save about Rs 200 million on the subsidized
routes that cost the PIA about Rs 400 million every year. Because of the composite nature of the deal, the PIA would pay only $45 million for the
seven SAAB aircraft as against the $98 million for the French ATR and $91 million for the American Dash-8 that will cost about $98 million. For its
part the Swedish government has provided a guarantee for the smooth supply of SAAB spare parts as long as the aircraft is flown anywhere in the world,
the PIA sources confirmed. Six hundred of such planes are being flown all over the world.
The SAAB aircraft for the PAF will be equipped with ERIEYE AEW&C system which can manage airborne early warning; intercept communication; airspace
management; surveillance and control borders; detect illegal shipment of weapons and drugs; and coordinate search and rescue operations. It will be
two years before the PAF receives its first AEW&C system. The deal would cost Pakistan about $1.7 billion (approximately Rs 90 billion) during the
next five years, and it will constitute the biggest defence purchase by the Musharraf administration. During his recently concluded visit to Sweden,
President Pervez Musharraf is understood to have held extensive discussions with the Swedish leadership on Pakistan’s interest in the AEW&CS,
sources familiar with the discussions in Sweden said.
Sweden had earlier turned down Pakistan’s requests on the reasons ranging from democracy to child labour. Chief of Air Staff Air Marshal Sa’adat
Kaleem will be visiting Sweden to further negotiate the deal later this month. The sources said the AEW&CS would not only help Pakistan to
counter-balance the Indian acquisition of the Israeli Phalcon airborne surveillance system, it will boast the Pakistan Air Force’s and the Navy’s
reaction capabilities by providing early and specific warnings. In the Rs 7.6 trillion defence budget announced this week, the Indian government has
earmarked the largest sum for country’s air force by committing to buy new combat aircraft, airborne warning and control systems and missiles during
the current year.
"The AEW&CS from Sweden, F-7 from China, upgraded Mirages from France and fresh supplies of Mirage spare parts from Libya would help the PAF meet the
air challenge from our arch rival," commented a retired PAF air marshal. Pakistan had first shown interest in the purchase of AWE&CS from Sweden in
1995 when the then Pakistani prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, had visited Stockholm and had requested the then Swedish premier, Olf Palme, to approve
the sale. "For nine years we have tried to secure these aircraft from SAAB/Erricson," said an official source.
While the PAF made a determined effort to induct the SAAB AEW&CS into its fleet, but in its process to replace the Fokkers, the PIA tested the SAAB
2000, fitted with engine from Allison/Rolls Royce ATR and Dash-8 fitted with engines from Pratt and Whitney. With the PAF’s deal for SAAB-based
AEW&C almost complete, it is now almost certain that the PIA would approve a strong internal recommendation for the SAAB 2000. "It makes more sense
because the SAAB will be setting facility for the maintenance of the PAF’s SAAB 2000 in the country," said an official. "It’s much feasible,
both financially as well as technically, to have a combined maintenance facility for the PAF’s and the PIA’s SAAB fleet."