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Saab Advances with Gripen E Test Program

 - May 27, 2019, 7:37 AM
Seen here in May 2019 in Saab's flight test hangar at Linköping, the first Gripen E (39-8) has been concerned primarily with trials associated with aerodynamics and aircraft systems. (Photo: Beth Stevenson)

Saab has begun run tests of the third Gripen E test aircraft ahead of a pending first flight, as the Swedish company ramps up development of the new fighter to enable it to reach its key operating parameters during these advanced stages of testing.

Test aircraft 39-10 is due to fly “quite soon,” the company said, following examples 39-8 and 39-9 that are already involved in the test campaign. These will additionally join the twin-seater 39-7 aircraft that has been converted into a more production-representative standard from the demonstrator configuration it was previously developed into.

The aircraft being used in the testing are now operating at a standard more illustrative of the aircraft that are expected to be delivered to both Sweden and Brazil—the two existing customers for the variant—by the end of 2019. Furthermore, Saab entered serial production for the Gripen E at the beginning of 2019, demonstrating the program’s advancement towards this later stage of development.

Recent milestones include Gripen E carrying the MBDA Meteor beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile, as well as a firing test of the Diehl short-range IRIS-T air-to-air weapon, both of which utilized test aircraft 39-8. “We are flying this on a daily routine basis and running updates fast on the test aircraft,” Eddy De La Motte, head of Saab’s Gripen E/F business unit, told media at the company’s Linköping, Sweden site in May.   

The Gripen E is based on a software and mission system design that permits it to be easily updated, which is allowing the company to make modifications to the test aircraft as new technologies are ready to be introduced into the program. This includes the tactical and electronic warfare systems that have been introduced into the testing, as well as the Leonardo ES-05 Raven AESA fire control radar.

De la Motte noted that throughout the expansion of the test program Gripen E reached a force of 9g in recent weeks, and the company is ramping up the number of aircraft that will be available as well as the number of flights per aircraft this year. A speed record in level flight for Gripen has also been achieved, he added, although the exact speed has not been disclosed.

The ongoing joint validation program for the new fighter being conducted by Saab, the Swedish ministry of defense, and Sweden’s FMV Defence Material Administration is also ramping up, and De La Motte noted that it is expected that Brazil will join this effort at some point. He also added that the production capacity across both Sweden and Brazil—the company entered into a technology transfer deal with the latter when the nation committed to a buy of 36 Gripen E/F examples—is 24 aircraft per year, but this could be ramped up accordingly if export success called for it.

The Gripen E/F is being heavily marketed for a number of ongoing fighter competitions, including those in Switzerland and Finland, for which the company has submitted a bid, as well as Canada and India that have requirements for a new aircraft. Saab is also still hopeful that it can see success in both Croatia and Bulgaria, both of which have selected different fighters, but the acquisition of which either failed or is not yet complete.