Gripen dealing for Thailand’s fighter contract

 - December 1, 2006, 8:20 AM

With a big, self-contained display outside Hall A here, Gripen International signals its determination to compete in Asia. And elsewhere, of course. Sales and marketing director Bob Kemp told journalists here this week that he expects the Swedish fighter to gain 200 export orders over the next 10 years–just under 10 percent of his estimate for the total combat aircraft market.

Sweden last month turned up the heat in Thailand’s long-running new fighter competition with a proposal to supply 12 new-build JAS 39C/Ds and two Saab 340 airborne early warning platforms, plus a third Saab 340 twin turboprop transport. The Gripen is in competition with the Lockheed Martin F-16 and Sukhoi Su-30 there. According to Kemp, the Swedish jet has “already been selected by two Thai air force chiefs.” Then, it seems, politics intervened.

All three contenders have accepted the concept of a barter deal to pay for the new fighters. Frozen chickens, shrimp and agricultural produce would make up part of the deal. A “fighters for chickens” deal has aroused some controversy in the European Union (of which Sweden is a member) where raw chicken imports from Thailand are banned due to the avian flu crisis. The Swedes point out that if chickens were part of any deal the birds would not enter the EU. They would be sold on to a third country with Swedish companies acting as brokers.

At yesterday’s briefing, Kemp talked of “flexible financing and repayment deals,” of the type already seen with Gripen’s current export customers (14 leased to the Czechs, 14 lease-purchased by Hungary and 28 ordered by South Africa). Some other highlights from his sales pitch:

• the Gripen’s life-cycle cost is “roughly half” that of the F-16;

• total cost of development was about $6 billion, compared with $40 billion for the JSF;

• radar cross section is “less than one-tenth” that of an F-16;

• the aircraft has been doing netcentric warfare for some years already, since Sweden is a world leader in this field;

• weapons integration is easy, so a variety of U.S. and non-U.S. equipment can be added.