The first series production Gripen E for Sweden has made its initial flight, piloted by Försvarets Materielverk (FMV, defense materiel administration) test pilot Henrik Wänseth, Saab announced on December 3. Serialed 6002, the aircraft displayed a new three-tone gray splinter camouflage that is redolent of the “fields and meadows” worn for many years by Swedish military aircraft. Whether this becomes the standard scheme is questionable: FMV noted on its Instagram account that the paint scheme is “different on the different aircraft” and is “part of the tests.”
Flygvapnet (the Swedish air force) is to receive 60 JAS 39E single-seaters. They are equipped with a wide-area cockpit display and helmet-mounted display from AEL Sistemas, Elbit’s Brazilian subsidiary. Some form of operating capability is scheduled to be achieved in 2021.
Saab has built and flown three Gripen E development aircraft, 39-8, 39-9 and 39-10, and started serial production of the first four single-seaters in January. The first of them took to the air on August 26 and is slated for delivery to the Brazilian air force after first being employed on trials in Sweden. It was formally handed over for tests on September 10. The remaining three aircraft from the first production batch are initially earmarked for Swedish trials and evaluation with the FMV.
Brazil is buying 28 Gripen E/F-39 single-seaters and eight Gripen F two-seaters for delivery from 2021. Under the 100 percent technology transfer deal, Brazilian industry is building components and will open an assembly line. It is also leading the development of the two-seater, for which Brazil is currently the only customer. Between the Brazilian and Swedish assembly lines, annual production rate is set at 24 aircraft, with additional capacity available to meet export demand.
In late November, a full Systems Rig was installed at the Gripen Design and Development Network (GDDN) at Embraer’s Gavião Peixoto facility. Built as a partnership between Saab, Embraer, Atech, AEL Sistemas, and the Brazilian Air Force, the “S-Rig” simulator will become an important tool in developing and testing new systems. It will also allow test pilots to rehearse trials flights prior to getting airborne and, as such, will support the activities of the Gripen Flight Test Center (GFTC) that is to be established alongside the GDDN in 2020.
Saab is hopeful that both domestic customers will order more aircraft. Sweden could add to its 60 in the light of increased tension in the Baltic region, while Brazil has stated an ultimate requirement for 108 to be acquired in three batches. Detailed negotiations concerning a second 36-aircraft batch could start in 2021.
In the meantime, the Gripen E/F sales team pursues other opportunities, including that in Finland, where the HX program is seeking a new fighter to replace the F/A-18 Hornet from 2025. In January and February, the five bids from Boeing (Super Hornet), Dassault (Rafale), Eurofighter (Typhoon), Lockheed Martin (F-35), and Saab (Gripen E/F) are to be evaluated in an in-country test campaign to be conducted mostly at Pirkkala. The Gripen is slated to be evaluated from January 29 to February 6. Sweden’s bid also includes the GlobalEye surveillance platform.