The successful introduction into service of the Royal Danish Air Force GIII's and USAF C-20's was the beginning of a major sales effort by Gulfstream to develop and build a family of special missions aircraft. Two distinct approaches were considered: a multi-mission transport, the SMA-3 (Support Missions Aircraft) and an electronic surveillance / high altitude reconnaissance aircraft with the potential of combat use, the SRA-1 (Special Reconnaissance Aircraft).
The SRA-1 concept broke new grounds in its attempt to provide an airborne platform for which customers could write their own job description. Based on the Gulfstream III airframe, the SRA-1 was announced by Allen E. Paulson (Gulfstream's chairman and executive officer) in September 1983. The prototype was unveiled at Savannah (GA) on 15 May 1984 at a ceremony attended by military officials from 31 countries. The aircraft was wearing a quasi-military serial (40420) which was a reflection of the c/n 420. The serial was replaced by its correct civil identity (N47449), for flight tests. The first flight of the SRA-1 was on 14 August 1984 and it made its debut at the Farnborough air show in September after final finishing and furnishing in the UK. It also was displayed at the Paris Air Show in June 1985 and the 1985 NBAA show in New Orleans.
The main differences of the SRA-1 during roll-out compared to a normal GIII were the starboard cargo door, a pod underneath the fuselage, six underwing hardpoints (for example for torpedoes and anti-ship missiles) and wingtip pods. The winglets were retrofitted during the flight test programme. When bought ,Gulfstream would deliver the aircraft and if required the system integration provided by preferred partners. Gulfstream did not develop an own designated range of mission fits or hardware but gave some examples of purposes the SRA-1 could be used for in company brochures. Missions could be Reconnaissance, Electronic Surveillance, Anti-Submarine Warfare and Maritime Patrol. Even airframe configurations with three or four engines, an internal bomb bay and carrier arrester hook were considered.
In one of these forms Gulfstream never actually sold any SRA-1, this despite serious negotiations with several Governments (like Tunisia and Argentina) and a special presentation for embassy officials in Washington DC. Nevertheless the SRA-1 was very important to Gulfstream because it laid the foundation and gave the experience for future Gulfstream special missions aircraft for instance for the Indian Air Force.