Gripen E/F Fighter Takes A Step Forward
Saab has brought its new-generation Gripen to the Farnborough International Airshow not as a demonstrator aircraft for potential new technologies, as previously, but as a systems prototype for the intended production Gripen NG, or Gripen E/F as it is also known. Designated as aircraft 39-7, the two-seat Gripen has new avionics and new cockpit installed, and just before Farnborough received the full-standard Selex Galileo ES-05 Raven e-scan radar, complete with repositioner. In this guise, 39-7 has become the avionics testbed for the Gripen E/F.
By the end of next year Saab is scheduled to have flown a full E/F prototype aircraft (39-8), newly built to the upgraded standard. The final configuration of the Gripen E/F has yet to be decided, but the major elements are already selected. The aircraft will have a General Electric F414 engine, possibly in its higher-rated EPE variant, and has a wider fuselage housing more fuel. Additional weapons pylons are installed.
Following delivery of the Raven radar, in late 2012 Selex Galileo’s Nerviano plant is due to deliver the first Skyward G infrared search-and-track system, which will also be fitted in 39-7 for tests that are scheduled to begin early next year. Skyward G gives the Gripen E/F a sophisticated multi-target passive tracking capability, able to handle up to 200 targets. Its scanning capability matches that of the radar in azimuth. It can also be used for target imaging and as a flying aid, producing a steerable infrared picture in a helmet-mounted display.
The SIT426 advanced indentify-friend-or-foe (IFF) system that Selex Galileo has developed for the Gripen E/F has already been pole-tested at the Arboga range. It is not due to be incorporated into a Gripen airframe until the first production JAS 39E/F, which is scheduled to fly in December 2014. As the IFF system is separate from the radar this does not affect the program’s development, as ground testing can accomplish most of the IFF program’s requirements.
Swiss Choice, Too
Sweden has committed to the JAS 39E/F, and it has also been selected by Switzerland, although there is still a political process to go through before any Swiss contract is signed. Swedish requirements are stated as being between 60 and 80 aircraft, and they will gradually replace the existing JAS 39C/D fleet between 2020 and 2030. It is likely that all of the aircraft will be JAS 39E single-seaters.
Switzerland’s requirement is for 22 aircraft, which will replace the Northrop F-5. The political process involves ratification by the two houses of the Swiss parliament, and is likely to include a public referendum. Such processes are likely to conclude in 2014.
Saab has promised to deliver the first Gripen E/F four years after contract award, but has not ruled out the ability to expedite development should another customer require earlier delivery. Sweden and Switzerland have aligned their requirements to produce an aircraft with a common baseline configuration and expected initial operating capability to be achieved in 2018.
Gripen NG aircraft will, in effect, be new-build machines although some elements of existing JAS 39C/Ds will be re-used, notably the wings. This is made possible by the E/F’s design, which widens the fuselage to achieve greater lifting area rather than enlarging the wing surfaces.
Still Marketing C/D Version
In the meantime, Saab continues to market the current Gripen C/D, highlighting the type’s good performance and low cost per flying hour, and to support existing customers. Hungary has recently extended its Gripen lease to 2026, and negotiations are ongoing with the Czech Republic to also extend. Thailand is to receive its second batch of six aircraft next year, with most of them already flying in Sweden.
South Africa is scheduled to receive its final aircraft this summer, and earlier this year began operations with the Thales DJRP (digital joint reconnaissance pod). All the aircraft have been officially handed over, but four were retained in Sweden to allow South African participation in the Lion Effort Gripen User Group exercise held at Ronneby in May.
Saab continues to target a number of opportunities for the Gripen around the world. Brazil is the most obvious, where the aircraft is pitched against the Rafale and the F-18. Success there could open the door to further Latin American sales. Thailand is likely to order a third batch of aircraft, while Malaysia is in the market for a replacement for the Russian MiG-29. Other Far East possibilities exist in the Philippines, Indonesia and Vietnam, while in eastern Europe several nations have new fighter requirements.
Saab’s UK office is also continuing conceptual work on a carrier-capable Sea Gripen, with an eye on Indian and Brazilian requirements. Risk-reduction work on the Sea Gripen will continue up to the point of an evaluated concept, according to a Saab official, “and then we’ll park it” to await further developments.