Paris Air Show

Raven radar equipped Gripen to fly by year-end

 - June 8, 2009, 7:50 AM

In late March Saab announced a teaming agreement with Selex Galileo to develop the ES-05 Raven active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar for the Gripen Next Generation fighter program. Selex Galileo is also the lead in the Euroradar consortium developing the Captor radar for the Eurofighter, while Saab Microwave Systems (formerly Ericsson) builds the mechanically scanned PS-05/A radar currently installed in the Gripen.

The Raven builds on the programs of both companies, including the antenna technology developed for Selex Galileo’s Vixen AESA family and ongoing PS-05/A development work. The radar has around 1,000 transmit/receive modules, mounted on an angled swashplate.

Swashplate technology allows the radar to be repositioned so that it scan a wider volume of sky than if it was fixed. Saab quotes a scan angle of 100 degrees from the centerline, allowing ES-05 to see targets behind the so-called “3-9 line.” The angled positioning of the antenna also helps to reduce frontal radar cross section.

A developmental version of the Raven is due to fly before the end of this year in the Gripen Demo aircraft. The Demo is a one-off test aircraft intended to de-risk the key technologies for the Gripen NG, including increased fuel capacity achieved through repositioning the main undercarriage, new avionics, additional stores pylons and the General Electric F414G engine.

Under the initial Gripen Demo program, Thales supplied an AESA antenna for the aircraft, based on the technology developed for the RBE2 AA radar for the Rafale. The Thales antenna was originally due to fly in the Demo this spring, but following ground trials was found to be unsatisfactory for the Gripen.

Meanwhile, the Gripen Demo continues its test campaign, and by mid-May the aircraft had flown 80 times. A key milestone was achieved in late January when the aircraft supercruised (sustained supersonic flight without afterburner) at more than Mach 1.2. Various stores configurations have been tested and the results have been very positive.

NG for India and Brazil
The Gripen NG is being offered to both India and Brazil for their current fighter competitions, both bids including the Raven AESA and Meteor missile capability. Saab is competing in India for a 126-aircraft order, of which 108 will be built locally. Evaluation of the six competing aircraft by two parallel Indian teams begins later this year.

Brazil is initially looking at a 36-aircraft purchase for its FX2 requirement, although the figure could ultimately climb to around 120. A best and final offer was submitted earlier this month, with a decision expected in the second quarter of next year, leading to an in-service date of 2014.

One area where the Gripen is believed to have the edge in Brazil is the lack of restrictions on the technology it can transfer. “Handing over source-code is natural to us [Sweden]: we know what it’s like to want to be independent,” said Bob Kemp, Gripen International’s sales and marketing director. “Brazil is looking for a strategic partnership, and part of our offset is that we can offer participation in the NG development program.” The Gripen NG is at just the right point in its development to bring in a partner such as Brazil. The Raven radar has been approved for export, with Selex Galileo owning its own codes.

There are other synergies: Brazil operates a dispersed base concept similar to that pioneered by the Swedish air force, and also employs the same AEW system (Erieye), for which datalinks are already fully integrated. Brazil is at the heart of a growing nonaligned partnership (the IBSA group, with India and South Africa) into which Saab has already made significant inroads through the sale of the Gripen to South Africa. A partnership with Brazil could possibly lay the foundation for future fighter development.

Away from Brazil and India, the Gripen is competing aggressively in a number of campaigns. The defeat in neighboring Norway set the company back, and there is a need to restore confidence. Saab has publicized the discrepancies it sees in the way the evaluation was conducted and its conclusions (particularly with regard to cost calculations), and this has become an election issue in Norway itself.

Elsewhere, the Gripen is pitched against the Eurofighter and Rafale to replace Switzerland’s F-5s. A decision was originally due to be taken this summer, but has been deferred by the Swiss government until next year. The government has defined a requirement to be fulfilled, rather than a number of aircraft. Figures of between 22 and 33 have been touted. “How green is your fighter?” is one area that is important to the Swiss. “We see environmental issues increasingly raised in the RFIs,” Kemp told AIN. “In Switzerland and the Netherlands especially…and we think it’s a good thing.”

The Netherlands is looking for 85 aircraft to replace its F-16s, and is a JSF industrial partner. However, Saab questions whether the air force’s ambitions match national policy, and suggests that the Gripen is more in line. Denmark (48 aircraft), where cost is a major issue, is another country that falls into the same category. There also has been active requests for information on the Gripen from Bulgaria (16), Croatia (12), Greece (40+), Romania (48) and Slovakia (14).

Some new opportunities to emerge recently are Malaysia (18 aircraft to replace MiG-29s), Argentina (Mirage replacement), Ecuador, Qatar and Oman. The UK–already a Gripen “operator” through the long-term deal with the Empire Test Pilots School–is examining the potential of establishing a dissimilar air combat training unit, for which the Gripen would be ideal.