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Saudis seek upgrade of E-3 AWACS, tankers

AWACS aircraft provide critical command, control, communication and surveillance capabilities over large areas of airspace.
by Staff Writers
Washington (UPI) Aug 12, 2009
Saudi Arabia is seeking technology upgrades for its fleet of 13 Boeing E-3aircraft that could be worth $2 billion for American companies.

The Saudi E-3 fleet includes AWACS/TASS aircraft that provide airborne early warning and control, RE-3 ELINT aircraft for electronic intelligence, and KE-3 aerial tanker and cargo aircraft. All are built around a basic Boeing 707 body and engines.

Two upgrades are sought involving separate contracts. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency informed Congress of the proposed sales on Aug. 5-6. All foreign military sales require congressional approval.

On Aug. 5, DCSA sought approval for a $530 million upgrade to the tactical airborne surveillance system carried by the E-3 AWACS aircraft. Saudi Arabia has five of them. The prime contractor will be L-3 Communications Integrated Systems Co. in Greenville, Texas.

AWACS aircraft provide critical command, control, communication and surveillance capabilities over large areas of airspace. They provide airborne traffic control for air force missions, detect intrusions of hostile aircraft or missiles, and can serve as an airborne command post for the tactical air battle.

The TASS upgrade would enhance the AWAC capabilities of the Royal Saudi Air Force, whose fleet was bought in the late 1980s. It would put the RSAF on a par with U.S., British, French and other NATO air forces, allowing electronic data to be communicated easily within the RSAF and with other regional coalition forces.

The other proposed sale, presented to Congress Aug. 6, is for a comprehensive technological upgrade of the communications and navigation systems of the RSAF's entire E-3 fleet. The contract is expected to be worth $1.5 billion. The prime U.S. contractor for the project will be chosen through a competitive selection process.

The proposed sales are not expected to face any problems in Congress. In the past sales of F-16 fighter aircraft to Saudi Arabia faced congressional opposition because of the Saudi position on Israel, which it does not recognize.

Upgrading existing equipment will not be as controversial particularly as it will enhance Saudi Arabia's ability to work with the United States and other partners in the regional coalition forming to counter any military threat from Iran.

The E-3 upgrades are part of a broader Saudi program to increase its aerial surveillance, early warning and in-flight refueling capabilities. Two weeks ago the French Defense Ministry announced the sale of three additional Airbus A330 air tankers to Saudi Arabia.

The Saudis had ordered three tankers in January and expect to take delivery of the first in 2011. The amount of the two sales has not been disclosed.

Airbus manufacturer EADS said, "The six aircraft will be configured with hose and drogue under-wing pods and the Airbus Military Air Refueling Boom System."

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