Saudi Arabia to Augment its RE-3 Airborne SIGINT Planes with Tactical Special Mission Aircraft

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The new 350ER special mission planes will augment the Saudi ER-3As SIGINT planes, as they are undergoing maintenance and upgrading. Flickr Photo

Saudi Arabia has requested to buy eight Hawker Beechcraft King Air 350ER special mission aircraft, packed with airborne Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR). The cost of the procurement package is estimated at about quarter billion US$, including four 350ER aircraft, with associated ISR systems and communications plus options for four additional planes with the same package. In recent years the Royal Saudi Air Force has been operating two Boeing RE-3 Sigint aircraft (broadly equivalent to the RC-135 Rivet Joint). According to the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) that announced the Saudi request last week, The Saudis have already used the RE-3 aircraft in this role, but this fleet is currently undergoing depot maintenance and will not be available until after 2015. In this interim phase, the King Air 350ER-ISR aircraft will carry out part of the the missions performed by the RE-3.


The Royal Saudi-Arabian Air Force (RSAF) plans to utilize these aircraft for various internal security missions, supporting counter-terrorism, smuggling interdiction, as well as coastal protection and search and rescue. By providing real-time surveillance of high priority facilities and infrastructure sites, traffic routes and border areas.

The SAR radar with part of the SIGINT systems will be installed in the underbelly gondola shaped pod. The EO payload will be installed in an extended nose section for optimal coverage. The datalink is located in the large dorsal radome. Photo: L3-Com.

The payload installed on these twin-prop planes will be different from the SIGINt-dedicated ER-3. Its sensor package will comprise a multi-sensor Electro-Optical payload, Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) and a modern Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) System. This system will be compatible with and will continue to supplement the capabilities of the RSAF RE-3 aircraft. For self protection from surface-to-air threats the aircraft will be equipped with the AN/AAR-60 Infrared Missile Warning and AN/ALE-47 Countermeasures System. Typically these systems are coupled with chaff-flare dispensing systems. In addition to the high-rate data-link, the aircraft will also be equipped with AN/ARC-210 VHF/UHF/Satellite Communication Transceiver Radios with Have Quick II and encryption and AN/APX-114/119 Identification Friend or Foe Transponder.

If Riyadh decides to proceed with the program L-3 Communications is likely to be the prime contractor, the group’s Mission Integration Division in Greenville, Texas, which also lead the modification of 37 ‘Project liberty’ MA-12W aircraft for the US Air Force. L3-COM will also be responsible for the mission systems integration, C4I Integration, aircraft modifications, as well as ongoing support.Other contractors include the platform manufacturer Hawker Beechcraft in Wichita, Kansas. Other subcontractors include Raytheon, Rockwell Collins, Harris, ATK, BAE Systems and Viasat. L3-COM has also teamed with a number of international system providers to offer a similar configuration of the 350ER known as Spydr, complying with International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) regulation which could limit the export of the version and sensors used by the US military. nevertheless, Riyadh, a close ally of Washington, is expected to receive a configuration similar to the one used by the US, just as their ER-3 resembled the highly classified USAF Rivet Joint, sofar exported only to the UK and Saudi Arabia.

The new aircraft closely resemble the USAF’s ‘Project Liberty’ MC-12W, which entered operational service in January 2009, and which has already proved highly successful in operations over Iraq and Afghanistan. The RSAF has already received two Hawker Beechcraft King Air 350i aircraft currently operating with 19 Squadron at Al Kharj air base. L-3 Com will also provide a new mission control center supporting the new will included ground stations, training aids etc.

Top Photo: The Royal Saudi AF Boeing RE-3A SIGINT aircraft was converted from a Boeing/RSAF KE-3 tanker. The RE-3A is seen here arriving at RAF Mildenhall in 2010.

L3 Com is promoting the Hawker Beechcraft 350ER based special-mission platform to potential Middle East customers. the aircraft is currently used in Iraq and is likely to be fielded by Saudi Arabia. Photo: L3 Com