GlobalEye: airborne surveillance takes new heights

31 May 2018 (Last Updated May 31st, 2018 11:59)

Saab has completed the first flight of its GlobalEye Airborne Early Warning & Control aircraft – which it claims is the world’s most advanced swing-role surveillance system – in Linköping, Sweden. Julian Turner gets the lowdown from Jonas Härmä of the firm’s Airborne Surveillance Systems division.

GlobalEye: airborne surveillance takes new heights
“GlobalEye brings together a sophisticated set of the latest surveillance sensors and communications that allow the operators to survey air and surface all on-board one platform.” Image: Saab.

Jonas Härmä is head of sales and marketing, airborne surveillance systems, at Saab. He has worked for the Swedish firm in sales, marketing, training, project management and business development since 1995.

Julian Turner: How is GlobalEye able to undertake airborne early warning, maritime and ground surveillance simultaneously?

Jonas Härmä: GlobalEye brings together a sophisticated set of the latest surveillance sensors and communications that allow the operators to survey air and surface all on-board one platform.

The large radar on the back of the aircraft is an Erieye ER active electronically scanned array (AESA) consisting of numerous advanced modules that use gallium nitride (GaN) technology to scan air and surface for the most challenging of targets within a very large volume of space. A Seaspray radar by Leonardo is located underneath the aircraft and supports on surface surveillance, while an electro-optical turret under the chin of GlobalEye provides a day/night visual image within a 360° arc.

The data from these sensors are collected and presented to the operator as a seamless intelligence picture, which the operator can then use to direct the sensors to provide further information whilst still searching elsewhere. The network nature of GlobalEye means it can share that information with others, issue instructions or accept data or communications from third parties.

JT: What specific benefits does GlobalEye offer compared with existing surveillance solutions?

JH: The combination of sensors, combined with the fusing of the various data to present one cohesive understanding of what is operating in the air or on the surface, puts the operator at a distinct advantage.

They see further, see a greater variety of targets and can make use of that information quicker – which ultimately translates into more informed decisions that allow more rapid responses to emergencies or threats. GlobalEye can work across a variety of missions including the civil sphere of disaster response, event security, deter and detect illegal activities, as well as meet the demands of high intensity warfare.

The aircraft can also change role dynamically while airborne during on-going missions – this is why we refer to it as a ‘swing role’ surveillance system. One platform is doing the tasks that multiple alternatives would otherwise be required for, meaning GlobalEye is pushing the performance limits of what could be expected from airborne surveillance.

JT: GlobalEye is a modified Bombardier Global 6000. Why was this specific aircraft chosen?

JM: Saab chose the Bombardier Global 6000 as a platform because the requirement we see in the market meant we needed a platform with long range and endurance. The Global 6000 is an ideal special-mission aircraft from a design and flight envelope point of view because it brings those attributes and smooth handling, plus a crew environment designed for the VIP business traveller.

The long mission times mean it is important to provide the operators with the best working environment to maximise their performance.

JT: Please talk in more detail about GlobalEye technology solutions including Erieye Extended Range and Seaspray maritime search radar, Flir Systems’ electro optical sensor.

JM: Saab remains a world leader in radar design and this has been achieved by internal investment, R&D and cooperation with other research institutions in key areas like signal generation, antenna design, and the software that allows us to process and interpret the returns.

All three of these factors contributed to the Erieye ER design, which uses an AESA antenna design operating in the S-band frequency that utilises GaN technology and adaptive waveform generation. The result is a radar that provides very long-range detection against difficult to discern targets with very fast detection rates and the ability to handle numerous contacts.

The Seaspray radar as used by GlobalEye is also an AESA radar that, like the Erieye ER, employs solid state multiple transmit/receive modules, which provides a number of benefits including improved reliability. The radar uses a mix of mechanical steering and electronic scanning and its multimode capability offers surface surveillance and weather detection simultaneously.

The Flir Systems electro optical (E/O) sensor used on GlobalEye provides image stabilisation and ultra-long range imaging performance with digital HD video. It has day/night capability and allows the operator to achieve visual identification and gather evidence, which can be useful post-flight.

JT: Why does Saab expect to see increased demand for swing-role surveillance assets?

JM: There seems to be a worldwide trend towards conflict, uncertainty, and an understandable desire for increased awareness and security. The exact factors that contribute to those trends are debated but the impacts are broad in that they affect both civil society and military affairs.

The outcomes can manifest themselves in illicit activities such as smuggling, piracy, threats and acts of terrorism, regional or bilateral tensions resulting in military operations. It is therefore reasonable to want to have a solution that operates across the full spectrum of eventualities that GlobalEye can handle so effectively.

JT: How is GlobalEye able to detect everything from low-observable air targets in heavy clutter to maritime targets at very long distances?

JM: The function of being able to detect targets that are challenging due to size, low observability characteristics, terrain/waves or counter surveillance activities (i.e. jamming) is similar. It is a combination of power, various means of generating a signal by which to detect a target, and clever processing of the returns, so as to be able to discriminate the contact amongst the noise and clutter.

Saab’s expertise and investment in radar, electronic warfare and the associated technologies means we have the means to detect such targets, thereby returning some decision time to the operator that would have otherwise been lost through the inability to see these targets until much closer.

JT: When will GlobalEye be commercially available and who are the prospective customers?

JM: In February of this year we rolled out the first GlobalEye aircraft in preparation for flight trials – the first time we had shown the aircraft or discussed the programme. Within three weeks that aircraft was up in the air for its maiden flight.

There are another two GlobalEye on order for the customer, and work on both them and the test programme is ongoing. Saab is remaining discrete about the progress as we have to respect our customer’s requirements. In terms of the wider market, this is a competitive market and one that takes years – but it is fair to say that we feel we have an unrivalled solution with GlobalEye.