Indian Forces Offered 'Used But New' Saab-2000s

The handsome Saab 2000 high speed turboprop, which gathered fair attention at the Aero India show in February, will be pitched by its Swedish maker in three prospective Indian military competitions: a bid for six medium range maritime reconnaisance (MRMR) aircraft for the Indian Navy (along with the Saab Bofors Dynamics RBS-15 Mk.3 anti-ship missile), an unspecified number of tactical transport aircraft for the Indian Air Force (I've got a copy of presentation Saab made to the IAF here - PDF), and six maritime multimission aircraft for the Indian Coast Guard (expected to be retendered after a recent cancellation). Saab has made preliminary presentations to the Indian Air Force and Navy on the capabilities of its offerings, and is awaiting the Coast Guard's requirements.

But the Saabs on offer won't be brand new aircraft. Not literally at least. Here's the thing. Production of the Saab 2000 ended in 1999; only 64 of the aircraft were built, with just over 50 aircraft still in active service today. So what aircraft is Saab offering to India? Well, used aircraft, bought back from existing operators, then refurbished and made new. I met Saab's Tommy Hultin in Delhi recently -- he's the man who scouts business for potential military variants of the discontinued Saab 2000. He said, "The Saab 2000 MPA will be re-manufactured from the existing Saab 2000 fleet (total structural refurbishment, extensive corrosion protection, electrical and systems upgrade and modification). Conclusion, the airframe set to zero hours together with the inclusive systems and a minimum of 35,000 flying hours are offered together with a guaranteed OEM support of a minimum of 25 years."

That sounds about right, but I'm just wondering if the Indian establishment -- which typically regards such things quite literally -- would ever look at these aircraft as anything other than refurbished used airplanes. Maybe they wouldn't, but I'm not too sure. The navy operates the very old ex-USS Trenton and will be getting what is essentially a refurbished vintage aircraft carrier in the INS Vikramaditya from Russia, but I'm not sure how they feel about airplanes.

Saab's Tommy Hultin also said, "Saab is always looking into new opportunities, re-start of the Saab 2000 production is being studied and evaluated." I'm wondering if Saab is suggesting that it could think of resurrecting the Saab 2000 production line here in India.

In its presentation to the Indian Navy, Saab indicates that growth potential on the Saab 2000 MPA includes "over-land border surveillance, anti-terrorism, pipeline protection, homeland security and major event security." Performance specs on the platform also exceed the Indian Navy's RFI requirements quite substantially. For instance, the aircraft's stated max endurance of 9.5 hours or more is roughly double the Indian Navy says it requires.

In the Indian Navy competition -- an RfP is expected at the end of June -- the Saab 2000 MPA will likely go up against a de-rated version of the Boeing P-8I, Dassault's Falcon 900 MPA, the Alenia Aeronautica ATR-72 MP and the EADS CASA CN-235 MPA. The navy's RFI puts down anti-ship capability as a requirement, but doesn't mention anti-submarine capability, which could, however, find mention in the RfP.

The other military-specific versions of the Saab 2000 are the Saab 2000 Erieye AEW&C and the Saab 2000 AIRTRACER, an ELINT/COMINT surveillance aicraft.

The five Saab Erieye AEW&C aircraft sold to Pakistan are among the only militarised ("special mission") Saab 2000s. Saab put the Erieye radar on platforms bought back from an airline. Hultin says, "Most special mission aircraft based on the Saab 2000 platform are remanufactured in a similar way, always based on customer requirements."

No country in the world currently operates the Saab 2000 maritime patrol version, making India a potential launch customer.

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