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Taliban Anti-Aircraft Troops Score Another Hit
by James Dunnigan
September 7, 2012

Pakistan recently revealed that an August 17th raid on one of their air bases had damaged one of their four Saab 2000 AWACS aircraft. These are Swedish Saab 2000 aircraft, mounting a Swedish Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar (which consists of thousands of tiny radars that can be independently aimed in different directions). This is similar to the AESA radar used on the American JSTARS aircraft, enabling it to locate vehicles moving on the ground as well as ships at sea and aircraft in flight. The Swedish AESA is cheaper, because its built like a long bar, mounted on top of the aircraft. This means the radar can only see in a 120 degree arc off both sides of the aircraft. A 60 degree arc in the front and back is uncovered. The radar can spot large aircraft out to nearly 500 kilometers and more common fighter sized aircraft at about 300 kilometers.

The Saab 2000 is a 22 ton, twin prop aircraft, with a cruising speed of 660 kilometers an hour. The aircraft can stay in the air about nine hours per sortie. The Ericsson PS-890 Erieye radar is also programmed to spot ships at sea and thus can also fill in for maritime reconnaissance.

Meanwhile, Pakistan only recently (last February) received replacements for two P-3C maritime patrol aircraft destroyed in a Taliban terrorist attack on a naval air base two years ago. Pakistan now has three P-3s with one more to go on the six aircraft order. The Pakistani P-3s are optimized for maritime surveillance with new electronics and the ability to see the results of all sensors on one display.

Meanwhile, the U.S. and Indian navies are both about (2013-14) to receive the new (successor to the P-3) P-8 maritime reconnaissance aircraft. The Indians are getting eight P-8Is, which will be customized for Indian needs and be slightly different than the P-8A the Americans will build for themselves.

Like the Saab 2000, the P-8A Poseidon is based on the widely used airliner (the Boeing 737).  The P-3 was in turn based on the Electra civilian airliner that first flew in 1954, although only 170 were built plus 600 P-3s. The Boeing 737 first flew in 1965, and over 5,000 have been built. The P-8A will be the first 737 designed with a bomb bay and four wing racks for weapons. The P-8 costs about $275 million each.

Smaller aircraft like the Saab 2000 are more popular for airborne search and air control duties because they are cheaper to buy and operate.

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