Late last month, a Saab JAS 39C Gripen fired two examples of the MBDA Meteor beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile. They were the first production-representative rounds of the weapon to be fired as the Meteor program gears up to deliver operational capability beginning early next year. The missiles were launched at remotely controlled targets at the Vidsel range in northern Sweden. They validated the datalink between the launch aircraft and the missiles, as well as the weapon’s ability to lock on. The trials also verified the command support that has been developed for the pilot.
A joint Saab, FMV (Swedish defense material administration) and MBDA team undertook test firings at the Vidsel test range in Sweden in June. “I’m impressed with the results that we’ve jointly accomplished, and it instills considerable confidence in continued work with integrating the Meteor on the Gripen,” reported Michael Östergren, FMV project manager. That work will see more firings being undertaken in the fall. Saab’s head of aeronautics, Lennart Sindahl, commented that the successful tests highlighted the Gripen’s “great opportunities for fast and cost-efficient integration of new capabilities such as weapons and sensors, thanks to our efficient way of working and the Gripen’s innovative design.”
The Meteor will be deployed on the latest Gripen C/D iteration, which is known as MS20. The final version of the software-based upgrade package is being prepared to provide full Meteor compatibility early next year, thus allowing the Gripen to become the first aircraft to be operational with the Meteor, which is also earmarked for the Rafale, Typhoon and, ultimately, the F-35. The Gripen was the first type to fire a development round of the weapon, in May 2006.
Meanwhile, Saab is accelerating work on the next-generation MS21, known as the Gripen E in its single-seat form, and has more than 1,000 personnel allocated to the program. Sweden is to acquire 60 of these aircraft, which are mostly new-build, while Switzerland is hoping to buy 22. New technology for the aircraft is currently being tested in the two-seat technology demonstrator aircraft, designated 39-7, which took to the air again in mid-June to begin Phase 5 trials. For this latest campaign it is fitted with production-representative, four-channel Selex ES Raven AESA radar, Selex ES Skyward G infrared search and track sensor and a digital HUD. “We are well ahead in the program,” Sindahl told AIN. “We now have all the [major] elements in the air.”
On July 3 Saab announced the start of final assembly of the first pre-production Gripen E (39-8), which is expected to make its first flight in early 2015. Two more pre-production aircraft will make up (with 39-7) a four-aircraft trials fleet. The 39-9 aircraft is due to fly in mid-2016 and 39-10 in early 2017, with certification planned for 2018.