Although sometimes not thought of as such by the U.S. defense giants, Sweden’s Saab (Outside Exhibit 14) is a major player in the world military aerospace market. Moreover, in the present day, Europe is one of the most important regions for the company, “which is one of the reasons we have chosen to showcase our air dominance product here at Farnborough,” said Saab’s head of market area–Europe, Magnus Lewis-Olsson, who also runs the company’s London office.
One of the most well-known of these products is the JAS 39E next-generation variant of the Gripen fighter. Saab is showing a full-scale replica of the Gripen E plus a full cockpit simulator at Farnborough 2018. The simulator will be fitted with the new wide-angle displays that are being considered for the new-generation Gripen’s cockpit.
“The larger displays show how this is really a new aircraft concept and creates a new environment for the pilot,” said Lewis-Olsson. But, he added, “the Gripen E is a lot like other new-generation aircraft in its class. A good deal of the most impressive aspects and systems on board the aircraft are those systems that you cannot see. For example, there is an entirely new electronic warfare [EW] suite, but it is all secret and you cannot talk about it.”
Not Just A Two-seat E-Model
One of the dimensions of the Gripen program that has not been widely discussed up until now is the development of the two-seat JAS 39F Gripen. The aircraft is being designed and the configuration defined by Saab along with Embraer and its other Brazilian partners. The recent announcement of the Saab Aeronáutica Montagens facility in Brazil that will work on a range of aerostructures for the Gripen E is an example of the technology transfer that Saab is delivering on with the Gripen procurement by the FAB (the Brazilian air force).
A Saab official who spoke to AIN about the aircraft last year stated that the Gripen F “will be a very different aeroplane. For starters the F model will be 70 cm [almost 28 inches] longer than the E-model aircraft,” said the Saab representative. “Its development in Brazil means that it will have a number of specialized missions that are tailored to requirements of the FAB and other customers.”
Lewis-Olsson elaborated on this point, telling AIN that the Gripen F is “not going to be like the B or the D model aircraft. It is not going to be just a Gripen E with a second seat shoehorned in. It will be an aircraft with distinctly new capabilities. We have customers looking at the aircraft specifically because it goes beyond what you traditionally associate with a two-seat, combat-capable training version of a single-seat aeroplane.”
Aside from the Gripen, Saab is also presenting its GlobalEye and EriEye aircraft designs and is looking for new customers for those systems, having had success with them in other regions. The resurgence of Russia as a military power that is seen as a threat to Poland and the Baltic states is prompting these and other nations to look at options for a C4ISR platform.
Arexis: Smart, Next-Gen Jammer
Another of Saab’s new products being discussed in detail for the first time at this year’s Farnborough Airshow is the Arexis EW pod. In the process of discussing the pod “we will talk about EW that is both on board the Gripen and in the pod, as there is overlap between the two,” said Lewis-Olsson. “The concept for the pod compared to onboard EW is that it provides for an even greater volume of stealth protection— electronic stealth versus physical stealth that comes from aircraft shaping—and it can be integrated to any aircraft.”
“Ideally, the pod has minimal integration problems, but it is a brand-new offering,” said Lewis-Olsson. “We showcased the pod at the last Farnborough show and we have now started talking to more customers about it and there is a lot of interest as it is a very intelligent piece of kit.”
Saab said that the pod is due to fly next year and that it is designed to shield aircraft against low-frequency radars for long-range detection. The Arexis employs a digital receiver and the system is still partially based on the DRFM technology that has been in use for years now.
However, said Lewis-Olsson, the “Arexis has an active electronically scanning array [AESA] GaN [Gallium Arsenide] antenna. It is also more than just a defensive aids pod as it can be used in an electronic attack mode. This is a large-sized pod and it has a high output.”
Saab originally thought that the prime market for the Arexis would be from countries that either could not or did not want to procure the F-35. But, according to Lewis-Olsson, there “has been interest in this system from the most surprising places. Even countries that are operating F-35s are interested in this.”
A New Air-to-surface Punch
Last year Saab revealed its program to redesign and produce a new-generation version of its RBS15 Mk IV air-to-surface missile. RBS15 NG was the previous nomenclature but there is a new official designator for the missile being unveiled this year at Farnborough. “The missile will have a longer range, improved jamming immunity, and a smart seeker,” said Lewis-Olsson. “Also, due to the redesign of the missile with new, lighter composite materials, the Gripen E can carry four of them.” The lighter weight also significantly increases the range of the missile.
Saab said the missile has an increased ability to penetrate target defenses. On the inside, it is completely reworked, with an improved and modified target seeker together with greatly increased computing power for improved signal processing and decision making in flight. It will also allow the use of a weapon datalink to allow retargeting in flight, which increases the operational envelope to include lower-intensity conflicts.
“Overall, the company remains very active with a number of campaigns in Europe,” said Lewis-Olsson, who concluded, “Specifically, we are working tenders or programs in Slovakia, Bulgaria, and Finland, offering different models of aircraft and systems in different numbers. But we also remain active outside of the region. The India campaign remains a major sale that we and several other companies are putting their efforts into.”