The integration of new weapons on some combat aircraft has become so expensive that European Defence Agency (EDA) held a workshop to discuss the problem. But Saab (Hall 4 Stand E5 and Chalet C35) has some helpful suggestions, based on its experience with the Gripen. The Swedish fighter served as the development platform for the Iris-T and Meteor air-to-air missiles, and other weapons were successfully added on time and budget.
“We think it’s important to define the operational requirements, and the levels of system integration that are desired,” said Gideon Singer, the technical director for the Gripen at Saab Aeronautics. Integration can de done over several phases, he told the last Fighter Conference in London, organized by Defence IQ. “Don’t bite off more than you can chew,” he advised.
Singer listed the considerations that should be fully explored before starting. Is the weapon mature? How many configurations are required? What are the essentials, as opposed to the “nice-to-haves?” For instance, is it really necessary to prove the weapon plus three fuel tanks in supersonic flight? “Ask for what you really need–the extra 10 percent will cost a lot more,” he said.
The limits to simulation must be fully understood, he continued. Integrators should make a clear distinction between the aerodynamic limitations of the weapon and the platform. The integration design should take into account the platform’s existing HMI and HOTAS philosophy. Data-link interoperability is another factor. “That’s often a nasty surprise at the end,” Singer said.
Lisa Abom, head of the weapons integration office at Saab Aeronautics, said that complex weapons had been integrated on the jet within four years, at costs ranging from $85- to $170 million. Yet the EDA workshop was told of integrations costing up to $270 million for certain other fourth-generation combat aircraft. Why was it cheaper in Sweden? The country has a smaller defense budget, which sets the environment, she claimed.
Also contributing to the picture, she added, is the modular avionics design of the Gripen, and the systematic planning of software upgrades, with new releases only every two or three years. Moreover, she added, “we have high confidence in our simulation; for instance, in the modeling of weapons separation.”
The MBDA Meteor BVRAAM was a good example of cooperation, Abom said. The Gripen conducted the first eight developmental test firings of the ramjet-boosted missile, and also the first live firing of a production missile in June last year. “We worked in an open atmosphere, where mistakes could be admitted, then fixed. We kept the test pilots in the loop. There was no blame-gaming,” she told the Fighter Conference.
Abom also described the integration on the Gripen of the Thales Digital Joint Reconnaissance Pod (DJRP), which was required by the South African, but not the Swedish, air force. This was done in only eight months, with flight tests in South Africa, she said. When asked whether Saab would be prepared to do integration work on a fixed-price basis, she said: “It depends; we’ll consider on a case-by-case basis.”