Saab will roll out the first Gripen E version at Linkoping, Sweden on May 18, said Richard Smith, the company’s head of marketing and sales for the combat aircraft. In a bullish briefing at the Singapore Airshow last week, Smith said that thanks to the 60 new-build E/F jets for Sweden, plus the Brazilian Gripen order and other surveillance and submarine programs, the Swedish company’s backlog was at an all-time high of $13.5 billion. The Gripen thus has a guaranteed long-term future, and the sales goal was “at least 300 more,” Smith said.
Smith described the “huge technical transfer program” associated with the Brazilian acquisition of Gripen. This includes 50 key projects in four categories, and is an expanded version of the model used in South Africa’s Gripen deal. Last October, the first 48 of an eventual 350 Brazilian engineers arrived in Sweden to work on the project. Fifteen of the expected 36 Gripens to be acquired by Brazil will be built by Embraer at a Development Center to be established at Gaviao Peixato. The center will also help develop the two-seat Gripen F and integrate weapons. There had been no slow-down of the Brazilian program, despite that country’s recent economic difficulties, Smith told AIN. Preliminary design of a Sea Gripen version had been completed, with a potential Brazilian requirement in mind, Smith said. “Now we must do a market analysis,” he added.
Meanwhile, development of the existing Gripen C/D version was continuing. The Swedish air force was introducing the MS20 upgrade that includes a new radar processor and receiver/exciter, a new IRST (infrared search and track), and new weapons. The Mk4 radar upgrade provides longer range to exploit the new MBDA Meteor BVRAAM (beyond visual range air-to-air missile), which Sweden will be the first to declare operational.
Reviewing sales prospects, Smith said final negotiations with Slovakia for eight new C/Ds were in progress; Bulgaria and Croatia were also prospects in eastern Europe. Belgium required 30-36 new fighters to replace F-16s, and Finland between 48 and 60 new jets to replace F/A-18C/Ds. Saab had discussed a third batch of six Gripens with Thailand, where the company hopes to eventually sell a total of 36. Indonesia was “still a prospect” said Smith, where the Saab 2000 AEW aircraft was also being offered, after the success of that combination in Thailand. Malaysia had been offered a lease of 16 aircraft, he said. With a huge fleet of MiG-21s to replace, India “was a perfect fit, and we see a huge possibility to satisfy the ‘Make in India’ policy,” Smith added.