Dubai Air Show

Gripen C/D makes airshow, Middle East debuts here

 - December 6, 2006, 12:02 PM

The arrival of the Gripen at the Dubai airshow represents a major milestone in an expanding marketing campaign for Sweden’s multirole fighter. Not only does it mark the aircraft’s first public appearance in the Middle East, it introduces the latest JAS 39C/D–now in service with Sweden and the Czech Republic–to the major international airshow circuit.

Although it looks similar to the JAS 39A, the C model (and its two-seat combat-capable JAS 39D counterpart) embodies many improvements. The EP 17 all- digital cockpit with full-color displays, retractable in-flight refueling probe, new Ericsson D96/MACS central computer, NATO-standard weapons pylons and greatly enhanced “smart” weapons/sensor capability account for the major ones. Designers made the JAS 39C/D compatible with a wide range of weapons and NATO-standard equipment, while a new environmental control system allows the JAS 39C/D to operate anywhere in the world. Next, the manufacturer plans to introduce an advanced electronic warfare suite and NATO-compatible identify-friend-or-foe functions.

The Saab/Gripen team kept a relatively low profile at previous Dubai shows, but many delegations expressed considerable interest in the fighter. Based on that interest, and on wider market assessments, Gripen International has invested in a major participation here this week, displaying aircraft and associated hardware in both the static park and flying program.

Here in Dubai seasoned display pilot Fredrik Müchler demonstrates the Gripen in the daily flying displays, as he has done at the Paris and Farnborough shows, while customers get a taste of its capabilities in a two-seater demo. The Gripens arrived in Dubai after a ferry flight from Sweden, supported by a C-130 Hercules from the Swedish air force. A heavyweight corporate delegation led by Johan Lehander, managing director of Gripen International, and Ingemar Andersson, Deputy CEO of the parent Saab group, back the hardware display.

“Obviously the Middle East, as well as the rest of the region, as a major procurer of defense equipment, is of keen interest to us,” Paul Boxwell, Gripen’s vice president of sales and marketing, told Aviation International News. “Our enhanced participation follows contacts made at the last Dubai airshow–contacts which we have since been following up on but which we cannot disclose for confidentiality reasons.”

Gripen International says it sees many good opportunities for its fighter throughout the world, including in this region. And it desperately needs orders to keep the production line open beyond 2008.

One major competition centers around India’s requirement for 125 new-generation fighters, and Saab received a request for information from India last November. Here, as elsewhere, the Gripen faces stiff competition from U.S., French and Russian rivals.

The Gripen can carry a wide range of stores from a wide range of sources. For instance, in the air-to-air missile field, it can accommodate the AIM-120, AIM-9L/M, AIM-9X, Iris-T, ASRAAM, A-Darter, R-Darter, MICA, Python IV and others. Such a capability removes the limitations of the “one nation only” supply chain that accompanies some of its competitors.

Gripen Developments

This year has proved to be a busy one for the Gripen team. On the export front, the first single-seater aircraft for Hungary flew in February, the last of 14 aircraft for the Czech Republic changed hands on August 31, and the first Hungarian two-seater arrived last month. South Africa’s first aircraft rolled out on October 28, and Saab concluded a deal with the UK’s Empire Test Pilots’ School to supply Gripens on a lease basis for the school’s fast-jet evaluation training requirements.

On the weapons front, the options continue to expand. In June, the Gripen became the first aircraft outside the U.S. to fire the AIM-120C5 AMRAAM. The test team in Sweden is now involved in firing the multinational Meteor ramjet-powered air-to-air missile at the overland test range at Vidsel.

At home, the Swedish air force continues work on the JAS 39C/D in the close-air-support (CAS) role. By employing the Litening III laser targeting pod/GBU-12 Paveway II LGB combination (collectively known as PWS 39), AGM-65G/H Maverick missile, SPK 39 electro-optical reconnaissance pod and digital datalinks, the Gripen can provide timely and accurate fire support and ISR for ground troops, the company says.

The Swedes expect to see CAS operating capability in the JAS 39C/D next June and full operational capability in January 2008, to coincide with the first alert readiness period of the Nordic Battle Group (also including forces from Norway, Finland and Estonia). Work in this arena, and other ongoing developments for the domestic air arm, are aimed at enhancing the Gripen’s export potential.