South African JAS-39D
(click to view full)
As a neutral country with a long history of providing for its own defense against all comers, Sweden also has a long tradition of building excellent high-performance fighters with a distinctive look. From the long-serving Saab-35 Draken (“Dragon,” 1955-2005) to the Mach 2, canard-winged Saab-37 Viggen (“Thunderbolt,” 1971-2005), Swedish fighters have stressed short-field launch from dispersed/improvised air fields, world-class performance, and leading-edge design. This record of consistent project success is nothing short of amazing, especially for a country whose population over this period has ranged from 7-9 million people.
This is DID’s FOCUS Article for background, news, and contract awards related to the JAS-39 Gripen (“Griffon”), a canard-winged successor to the Viggen and one of the world’s first 4+ generation fighters. Gripen remains the only lightweight 4+ generation fighter type in service, its performance and operational economics are both world-class, and it has become one of the most recognized fighter aircraft on the planet. Unfortunately for its builders, that recognition has come from its appearance in Saab and Volvo TV commercials, rather than from hoped-for levels of military export success. With its 4+ generation competitors clustered in the $60-120+ million range vs. the Gripen’s claimed $40-60 million, is there a light at the end of the tunnel for Sweden’s lightweight fighter?
JAS-39: The Gripen Program
Saab’s JAS-39A-D Gripens
(click to view full)
The JAS-39 Gripen is an excellent lightweight fighter by all accounts, with attractive flyaway costs and performance. Its canard design allows for quick “slew and point” maneuvers, allowing it to take advantage of the modern trend toward helmet-mounted displays, and air-air missiles with much wider boresight targeting cones. The “Cobra” HMD completes that capability, and became operational on SAAF Gripens as of September 2011. Power to weight ratio is good, its PS-05 radar mechanically scanned radar gets good reviews, some “radar profile shaping” techniques have been employed to reduce its own signature, and its small physical size can make it a tricky opponent for enemy pilots.
Short Take-Off and Landing capability makes Gripen a difficult target on the ground as well. Sweden’s defense doctrines avoid dependence on easily-targeted bases, and its fighters are expected to fly from prepared sites next to automotive highways. Gripens can fly from a 9 x 600 meter/ 29.5 x 1,970 foot runway, and land in 600 meters or less – without using a launch catapult or an arrester hook.
The Gripen has one other asset that is often overlooked: very attractive lifetime operational costs. To date, each new generation of modern fighters has proven to be more expensive than its predecessors to operate and maintain. Since operation and maintenance are over 65% of a fighter’s lifetime cost, this aspect of the defense procurement spiral forces much smaller aircraft orders with each new generation of equipment. The JAS-39 was designed from the outset to counter this trend, and lifetime operating costs were given a high priority when making design and equipment decisions. Many of the Gripen’s competitors have tried, but Saab appears to have succeeded.
More exact cost figures were offered in July 2010 by Gripen technical director Eddy de la Motte, who quoted less than $3,000 per flight hour for Sweden’s Flygvapnet, and “for the export customers it will be less than $5,000, including maintenance, spare parts, fuel and manpower.” On its face, that’s stunning. By comparison, the USAF places the per-hour cost of an F-15 at $17,000 [PDF]. Even given a likely mismatch between direct flight costs, and figures that include allocated life cycle costs including depot maintenance, etc., that is a big difference. Switzerland is one customer where that difference appears to have been decisive. Swiss evaluations reportedly rated the Gripen at roughly half the O&M costs expected for its twin-engine Rafale and Eurofighter counterparts.
Gripen: integrated equipment
(click to view full)
The Gripen’s equipment commonality and choice are good. Its engine is a derivative of GE’s F404, in wide use on F/A-18 A-D Hornets and many other platforms. A wide variety of international equipment has successfully been tested and integrated with the aircraft, including equipment from American, Israeli, European, and even South African suppliers. Some key slots like radar-killing missiles still need to be filled, but Raytheon’s GBU-49/EGBU-12 Enhanced Paveway GPS/laser guided bombs were added in 2009, and Gripen is serving as the MBDA Meteor long-range air-air missile’s test aircraft for flight trials.
The end result is an effective lightweight fighter. As an example, the Hungarian Air Force described their experiences at Exercise Spring Flag 2007, held in May at Italy’s Decimomannu air base in Sardinia. Other participants included France (E-3 AWACS), Germany (F-4F ICE), Italy (AV-8B Harrier, F-16C, Tornado ECR and Eurofighter Typhoon), NATO (E-3 AWACS), and Turkey (F-16C), with tanker support from Italy, the UK and the US. The Gripen’s 100% sortie rate was impressive, and it also generated some interesting comments from Hungarian Air Force Colonel Nandor Kilian:
“In Hungary we just don’t have large numbers of aircraft to train with, but in Spring Flag we faced COMAO (combined air operations) packages of 20, 25 or 30 aircraft. The training value for us was to work with that many aircraft on our radar – and even with our limited experience we could see that the Gripen radar is fantastic. We would see the others at long ranges, we could discriminate all the individual aircraft even in tight formations and using extended modes. The jamming had almost no effect on us – and that surprised a lot of people.
Other aircraft couldn’t see us – not on radar, not visually – and we had no jammers of our own with us. We got one Fox 2 kill on a F-16 who turned in between our two jets but never saw the second guy and it was a perfect shot.
Our weapons and tactics were limited by Red Force rules, and in an exercise like this the Red Force is always supposed to die, but even without our AMRAAMs and data links we got eight or 10 kills, including a Typhoon. Often we had no AWACS or radar support of any kind, just our regular onboard sensors – but flying like that, ‘free hunting,’ we got three kills in one afternoon. It was a pretty good experience for our first time out.”
To keep the basic Gripen relevant, block upgrades occur about every 3 years. Block 19, in 2009, integrates IRIS-T SRAAM (Short-Range Air-to-Air Missile), NATO’s Link-16 as a supplement to Gripen’s own shared awareness datalink, and the Cobra helmet-mounted sight. Block 20 in 2012 is expected to include enhancements to the PS-05/A radar, and the ROVER close-air-support data link used with such success by American forces.
Partnerships & Production
The Industry Group JAS (IG JAS) is the joint venture partnership that develops the Gripen System for the Swedish Armed Forces. Partners included in IG JAS are Saab Volvo Aero Corporation and Ericsson Microwave Systems (now part of Saab Group). The development and production of the Gripen has been one of Sweden’s largest industry projects, consuming up to one-third of the Swedish defense budget in some years.
The first JAS-39s were delivered in 1993, and the last Swedish plane was due to be delivered in 2007. While exact figures are extremely difficult to come by, sources place the average flyaway cost of the JAS-39 at about $40 million per plane, or about $50 million in current dollars. The whole Gripen production run for all customers, according to current orders, will reach 261 aircraft. This consists of:
An unspecified number of additional Gripens have also been delivered to the multinational UK Empire Test Pilot’s School, as their fast jet platform.
The lion in winter…
(click to view full)
On the marketing front, Saab now handles all international sales, and ties to its parent firms like Investor AB allow it to offer an attractive program of industrial offsets to potential owners. An initial Gripen International marketing partnership with BAE gave the Swedish aircraft wide global representation, but BAE had conflicts of interest, and a divestiture formally ended the partnership in March 2010.
Unfortunately, the Gripen has lost out in or been absent from important export competitions in Austria (Eurofighter), Finland (F-18), India (Rafale, but not closed), Poland (F-16), Switzerland (F-18, but Gripen won a follow-on buy), and Singapore (F-15SG Strike Eagle to replace A-4 Skyhawks). A number of potential opportunities are detailed below, but existing orders will not keep the JAS-39 in production past 2012. Meanwhile, Sweden may be about to downsize its Gripen force to 100 JAS-39 C/D aircraft, flooding the market with second-hand models and choking new production opportunities. All in a market where overall export orders are already below Saab’s expectations.
A number of factors could be cited as reasons for this situation: purchasing slowdowns across the industry, the inertia of existing relationships and equipment standardization, Sweden’s lack of geopolitical weight in contrast to countries like the USA, France or Russia. In Singapore’s case, its status as a single engine lightweight fighter with limited range also hurt it – as did its partner BAE’s greater interest in promoting its own Eurofighter.
Still, the bottom line is that the Gripen was dependent on exports for profitability, as a result of the unprofitable contract Saab signed with the Swedish government. The government’s ability to assist with foreign export orders has proven to be very limited, and envisaged export orders have been more in line with skeptics’ predictions, than with corporate hopes.
Can the Gripen production line survive?
JAS-39 Gripen: The Way Forward
(click to view full)
One way forward is through upgrades. Most JAS-39s offered in recent export competitions touted important improvements beyond the present C/D versions. The most important is next-generation AESA radar technology, which offers substantial improvements in detection, resolution, versatility, and maintenance costs. Other common upgrades include uprated engines and longer range. Eventually, they were formalized into 2 programs. The test and development program is called Gripen Demo. Production aircraft appear to be headed toward a JAS-39E/F core designation, though they’re also referred to as JAS-39NG, for “next generation.”
Regardless of the exact upgrade sets offered, the hope remains the same: that appropriate upgrades would allow the Gripen to continue offering better performance and features than lightweight fighter peers like the F-16 and MiG-29, including new variants like Russia’s new thrust-vectoring MiG-35 and Lockheed’s AESA-equipped F-16 Block 60 “Desert Falcon” flown by the UAE. They’re also intended to allow the Gripen to compete on more even terms with more expensive fighters like the Rafale, F/A-18 Super Hornet, etc. In those competitions, Gripen would be positioned as a lower-budget option with “close enough” capabilities overall, and outright advantages in key areas.
click for video
That competitiveness is essential. Like France’s Rafale, which also depends on exports to finance its ongoing development, the Gripen is finding itself dependent on home government handouts in order to remain technologically competitive. That’s less than ideal, but given the Gripen and Rafale’s status as the future backbones of their respective national air forces, non-competitiveness is hardly an option. Absent further foreign sales, therefore, the question for both aircraft is how badly future upgrade costs will eat into their home market’s fighter procurement and maintenance budgets. Which explains Saab’s eagerness to escape this trap.
Sensors & C4
ES-05 Raven AESA
(click to view full)
The first set of chosen Gripen enhancements will improve the pilot’s situational awareness, and this set of enhancements is being designed with an eye to retrofit compatibility on existing JAS-39C/D Gripen fleets. The upgrade set includes:
An AESA radar in place of the present PS-05 is an important future selling point, and has been promised in several of Saab’s recent foreign bid submissions. As of March 2009, Saab is partnered with Selex Galileo to design an ES-05 Raven AESA radar that builds on Selex’s experience with the Vixen 500 AESA, Ericsson’s PS-05 radar, and its Nora AESA experiments. The Raven incorporates an identification friend-or-foe (IFF) function that works in conjunction with the cheek-mounted active array SIT 426 IFF.
In an unusual twist, the Raven AESA will be movable using a single-bearing system, increasing its total field of view by a factor of 2 to +/- 100 degrees, and improving “lock, fire, and leave” maneuvers. The cost is paid in reliability and maintenance, because the pivot mechanisms create a point of failure and maintenance, whereas fixed AESA radars are mostly maintenance-free. Saab is betting that the improved scan performance will justify the cost. The quality of Raven’s AESA transmit/receive modules, and their integration, will also play a large role in the radar’s final performance.
Reaching this point wasn’t easy, and the developmental state of its radar has been a weakness for Saab in competitions like India’s M-MRCA. Saab bought Ericsson’s radar group, which also makes the Erieye AWACS radar, in March 2006. Later that year, they began the “Nora” AESA project, but by autumn 2007 they had changed their approach, and looked to leverage existing radar initiatives instead. That would have been fine in a normal marketplace, but underhanded anti-competitive behavior by Dassault and the US government left Saab without a viable partner, and cost them years of time on a critical market feature.
Gripen Demo & JAS-39D
(click to view full)
Sensors & Datalinks. Beyond the Raven radar, a passive IRST (infra-red search and track) system will be added to improve the JAS-39NG’s aerial target detection, without running the risk that the Gripen will reveal itself by emitting detectable electro-magnetic energy. The JAS-39E/F’s Skyward-G system is air-cooled, which eliminates the weight and maintenance of cryogenic liquid cooling systems.
IRST systems are useful against some ground targets, and all aerial targets. They especially enhance performance against opponents with “low observable” radar stealth enhancements. If medium-long range infrared guided missiles like MICA-IR or NCADE are integrated in Gripen at some future date, an IRST system can even provide missile guidance beyond visual range, without triggering the target’s radar warning receivers.
Link 16 is a situational awareness upgrade, and retrofits are also available for earlier Gripen models. Gripens already had a proprietary datalink that allows them to see a common picture of the battlefield, but the NATO Link-16 standard is more widely used, and adds the ability to share with other types of aircraft, air defense radars, ships, etc. (see June 11/07 entry, below).
EW/ECM. Electronic warfare enhancements are another component of situational awareness these days, and Swiss evaluations in 2008/2009 rated this as a platform strength. Upgrades are critical, in order to keep the platform current. The JAS-39 E/F will get them, and Elbit Systems’ PAWS-2 appears to be at least part of the upgrade.
JAS-39NG CAP Concept
(click to view full)
Mechanical upgrades are in the works, too.
Size & Payload. Early projections for the single-seat JAS-39NG showed a larger fighter, in order to carry more fuel, and more weapons on 2 extra stations (10 total). Subsequent reports regarding the JAS-39E/F confirm that the fighter will be longer and wider, but aims to have the same wing loading ratio as earlier models. Empty weight for the Gripen Demo technology development prototype was reported as 7,100 kg, which is up from the JAS-39C’s 6,800 kg, but still well below the 10,000 kg of the F-16E Block 60. Maximum takeoff weight for Gripen Demo was a bigger jump from previous versions, rising to 16,000 kg from 14,000 kg. The derivative JAS-39E/F may end up being even heavier, at 16,500 kg or greater. Maximum payload only jumps from 5,000 kg up to 6,000 kg, however, because of…
Fuel. One of the Gripen’s handicaps against competing fighters has been its range. A 38%+ jump in internal fuel capacity is meant help to offset the Gripen NG’s weight and power increases, while extending the aircraft’s combat air patrol radius to 1,300 km/ 812 miles, and boosting unrefueled range to 2,500 km/ 1,560 miles. The landing gear is repositioned to accommodate those extra fuel cells. A new underwing 1,700 liter (450 gallon) fuel tank has been flown, and tanks capable of supersonic drop will be tested in future. With the full set of drop tanks, the JAS-39E/F’s total flight range is expected to reach 4,075 km/ 2,810 miles.
Engine. Hauling all of that around will require a more powerful engine than the current RM12 variant of GE’s popular F404. GE’s F414, produced in partnership with Volvo Aero and in use on the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet family, will be that engine. The base model offers a 25-35% power boost over its predecessor the F404, and the developmental F414 EPE could offer another 20% thrust increase on top of that, for a total boost of 50-62%.
Key F414G alterations for the Gripen will include minor changes to the alternator for added aircraft power, and Full Authority Digital Electronic Control (FADEC) software that’s modified for single-engine operation, instead of the Super Hornet’s twin-engine configuration. Reports also indicate that Saab will look to add divertless supersonic intakes to the JAS-39E/F. This technology saves weight while offering similar or better engine performance, and can be found on the F-35, as well as on China’s JF-17, J-10, and J-20 fighters.
Saab Group remains on track with the basic Gripen Demo program, which has also been referenced as the “Gripen MS21″. The next step will involve setting the final specifications for Sweden and for initial buyers, and finalizing the “JAS-39 E/F” design. Development is expected to be done by 2018-2020, with new JAS-39E/F fighters entering service in Sweden around 2023.
The Next Gripens: Industrial
Gripen Demo rollout
(click to view full)
In July 2006, Saab received a SEK 1 billion contract from the Swedish government (about $150 million) to improve the aircraft, and develop the Gripen Demo/NG. This was later followed by a NOK 150 million (about $25 million) agreement with Norway in April 2007, and a set of industrial partnerships with key suppliers. A welter of upgrade contracts, studies, and private investment initiatives have also worked to finance R&D of key components, including the avionics and radar.
Saab’s approach to those Gripen Demo partnerships has been a departure from past practice. Instead of selecting key technologies and modifying them to become proprietary, as was the case for the F404-based Volvo RB12 engine, Gripen Demo is using far more “off the shelf” parts. As noted above, its new GE F414 engine will feature minimal changes, so the upgraded engine is expected to cost 20% less than the its RB12 predecessor. Suppliers like Honeywell and Rockwell were reportedly asked to just provide their products, and let Saab handle integration. There are even rumors that Saab may embrace the same HMDS pilot helmet used on the F-35, instead of Saab’s Cobra. At present, Saab is leading a team of Gripen Demo partners that include:
A demonstrator for the new version was rolled out in April 2008, and has been in flight testing since. Current negotiations with the Swedish and Swiss governments are aimed at freezing the configuration for the JAS-39E/F, which will feed back into the final industrial team.
Sea Gripen Concept
(click to view full)
Other aircraft upgrades are not advertised at present, but have been the subject of industry rumor and conditional commitments.
Some reports have touted the possibility of a thrust-vectoring engine in future Gripen upgrades, but this was not listed as a selling point in Saab’s submissions to Norway or Denmark, and has not been mentioned in any Gripen Demo descriptions. More probable rumors involve upgrading existing fighters to JAS-39 C+/D+, by adding the improved F414G engine.
Other reports over the years have focused on a carrier-capable Sea Gripen, and Saab had indicated that it would spend up to half of Gripen NG’s development budget on this variant, if it found a partner. In May 2011, however, an announcement seemed to indicate that the firm was beginning to move forward on its own, with development centered in the UK.
Carrier landing is usually a very difficult conversion, but Saab can take advantage of the aircraft’s natural STOL(Short Take-Off and Landing) design. The Sea Gripen would add new undercarriage and nose gear to cope with higher sink rate forces and catapult launches, strengthen the existing tail hook and some airframe sections, and improve anti-corrosion protection. Launch options would include both catapult (CATOBAR) and “ski jump” ramp short take-off (STOBAR) capabilities, with maximum launch weight about 1/3 lower for STOBAR launches. Carrier landing speed is already in the required range under 150 knots, but the current 15 feet per second sink rate needs to be able to reach 25 feet/sec.
India was the initial Sea Gripen sales target; Dec 29/09 materials [link now private] indicate that this option was raised in Saab’s response to the M-MRCA RFI. India picked the MiG-29K and its own future Tejas LCA Naval variant for its carriers, however, and Gripen is not currently an M-MRCA contender. Sea Gripens also have a possible future role in Brazil as a naval aircraft on NAe Sao Paolo, or as a backup choice to Britain’s F-35C Lightning IIs on the new CVF carriers.
(click to view full)
Time will tell whether the JAS-39 Gripen’s unique combination of performance, price, and life-cycle benefits will find enough buyers in the end, or if it will go down in history as the twilight of Sweden’s indigenous combat aircraft designs. Thus far, buyers have included Sweden (195), South Africa (28), the Czech Republic (14 lease/buy), Hungary (14 lease/buy), and Thailand (12). Brazil (36) and Switzerland (22) may follow soon.
Meanwhile, Saab Defence & Security continues to pursue sales possibilities worldwide. The base list comes from a 2006 Bloomberg interview that outlined Saab CEO Ake Svensson’s thoughts about the aircraft’s potential export customers in the coming years. A Reports reoprt from Jane’s, based on that interview, added more specifics. Subsequent developments have closed off some opportunities, and added others.
Baltics: There is an lease requirement for up to 12 aircraft in Estonia, Latvia & Lithuania, but no active pursuit yet.
Bulgaria: Stated in 2004 that it has a requirement for 20 aircraft. Issued a Request for Information (RFI) to Saab in May 2006. A 2011 RFI cut that to 8 planes.
Croatia: Was looking for 8-12 aircraft, with an in-service date of 2011. A JAS-39C/D offer has now been presented, with Swedish JAS-39As loaned as an interim force.
Denmark An offer has been made for replacement of their F-16 fleet with about 48 JAS-39DKs instead of F-35As. The Danes now expect to buy just 25-35 fighters (F-35A, F/A-18E/F, or JAS-39NG), and won’t make a decision until 2014. Gripen is a long shot.
Greece: In limbo. Was looking to purchase a second tranche of 30-40 advanced fighters, with the process expected to begin in 2006. That was delayed, then hope was held out, then the 2010 fiscal collapse happened.
Hungary: Existing customer, has extended its existing Gripen lease to 2026. Looking to phase out its fleet of MiG-29s; Saab thinks another 6 aircraft are possible.
Malaysia: Limping along with MiG-29Ns until 2015, but not happy. Saab sees a chance to sell about 12-18 fighters, but they’ll compete against Boeing, Dassault & Eurofighter.
Slovakia: They need to replace their 6 serving MiG-29s, and want to cooperate with the Czech Republic, which is a Gripen customer.
Slovenia: There have been incredible reports re: national aspirations to field 40 aircraft. It’s difficult to see how they could afford anything even close to that, and they don’t fly any fighters at present.
Brazil: Picked (36). The canceled F-X program is underway again, as Swensson had hoped. After a long series of delays, Gripen NG was picked. The 36-fighter contract is expected in December 2014.
India: India’s M-MRCA competition for 120-190 fighters. JAS-39IN is out, and France’s Rafale is the pick… if M-MRCA can finish without a restart.
Switzerland: Picked (22). Was expected to start the process to replace 3 of its F-5 squadrons later in 2006, but starts and stops pushed a decision to 2011. Saab’s Gripen was picked against the Rafale and Eurofighter, but Parliament must ratify the decision, and a referendum is likely. Contract expected around 2014.
The Czech Republic: Existing customer. In July 2010, Saab officials said that they saw the potential for up to 10 more planes there, but the next 10-year cycle will just extend the existing lease. Awaiting formal approval.
The Netherlands: loss A Tier 2 F-35 partner, but political pressure forced a competing bid, and Saab submitted one for 85 planes in 2008. The bid is essentially lost at this point, with the main Labour Party opposition apparently caving in to a buy of just 35 or so F-35s.
Norway: loss. Had a requirement for 44 fighter aircraft to replace its F-16s. EADS withdrew its Eurofighter, then the F-35A won against the JAS-39N, but it may never have been a real competition. F-35A purchases have begun.
Romania: loss. Was looking for 40 aircraft, but cut that down to 24 used F-16C/D Block 25s, which they bought second-hand from Portugal.
Thailand: Win (12). was looking to replace its aging F-5s, and Gripen won, over reported pursuit of more F-16s and even Russian SU-30s. A follow on order brings their total to 12 JAS-39C/Ds, as part of a package that also included S340 AEW planes.
JAS-39 Gripen: Major Events
“Live” competitions in which the JAS-39 Gripen is still participating, and which feature dedicated DID coverage including ongoing updates, include:
Brazil’s F-X2 (Gripen NG picked for 36, negotiations underway)
India’s M-MRCA (Gripen eliminated, but competition not over)
Switzerland’s F-5E/F replacement (Gripen-E win for 22, referendum must approve).
JAS-39C & L-159As
(click to view full)
Jan 8/13: Slovakia. Slovakia is reportedly leaning toward JAS-39 fighters as a replacement for its MiG-29s. They might be able to get second-hand F-16s or Kfirs for less, but the JAS-39′s low maintenance costs are very attractive, and they want to cooperate with the Czech Republic. Flying the same jets offers them the ability to share costs and services at a much deeper level.
Slovakia currently fields 6 L-159 fighters, and reportedly has 6 flyable MiG-29s left from its original total of 12. They’ve never bought fighters as an independent state- their fleet was received from the Velvet Divorce with the Czech Republic. Sources: MINA, “Slovakia to replace Mig29s with Swedish JAS39″.
Jan 2/14: Czech. The Czech government has negotiated its next lease period for their JAS-39C/D Gripens. The new deal will have a longer lease term (12 years + 2 year option), and annual payments about 31% lower. It would be interesting to know how the lease-to-buy program has been affected by these changes, and to have clarity regarding the terms of ongoing aircraft modernization.
The catch is that October’s elections upended Czech politics, in the wake of scandals involving ex-PM Petr Necas and the PMO’s chief of staff that included an affair, using military intelligence to keep an eye on his estranged wife, and possible payments to legislators who resigned in advance of a critical non-confidence vote. The ODS party went from 2nd place to 5th, and its allied parties also lost ground. The new center-left government will be headed by the CSSD (Social Democrats), and includes the ANO protest party and the KDU-CSL Christian Democrats. The outgoing government could have signed the deal, but decided to leave it to the new government on the grounds that it’s a strategic decision. Sources: Wikipedia, “Czech legislative election, 2013″ | Czech Ministerstvo obrany, “Vlada schvalila prodej letounu L-159, prodlouzeni pronajmu gripenu prerusila”.
Formal Swedish Gripen NG approval – with conditions; Swiss government approves Gripen NG; Gripen NG picked in Brazil; Denmark competition starts up again; Serious about Sea Gripen; Work begins to build the JAS-39E; No Gripen weapon school in South Africa.
(click to view full)
Dec 18/13: Brazil. Earlier press reports that the competition was stalled for another 2 years are proven wrong by a somewhat unexpected announcement by the Ministerio da Defesa that Brazil has picked Saab’s Gripen-NG as their preferred bidder, and expects to buy 36 planes for $4.5 billion. That’s currently just an estimate, as negotiations need to sort themselves out. A final contract and financial arrangements are expected in December 2014, and deliveries are expected to begin 4 years later. That’s a challenge for Saab, as any schedule slippage in the development program would create a late delivery. Late fees can be expected to be a negotiating point, and Brazil’s MdD says that leasing JAS-39C/D Gripens as an interim force may be addressed in the negotiations as a 2nd contract.
The Gripen NG contract figure tracks exactly with previous reports by Folha de Sao Paolo, which means an additional $1.5 billion contract can be expected for long-term maintenance and support. Saab was the cheapest of the reported offers, beating Boeing ($5.8 billion) and Dassault ($8.2 billion, reportedly reduced) by significant margins. Once Edward Snowden’s revelations of NSA spying on Brazil’s government killed Boeing’s chances, there was no middle ground. The Rafale’s reported $10.2 billion purchase + maintenance total made it 70% more expensive than Saab’s Gripen. Brazil’s economic slowdown, and the Rousseff government’s focus on entitlement spending, made that cost chasm a big factor.
It wasn’t the only factor. The Gripen has Ministry statements indicate that industry’s long-standing preference for Saab’s industrial terms played a role, as Gripen-NG offers the prospect of participating in a new fighter’s design. So, too, did the unique prospect of full access to weapon integration source code, which the Ministry cited in its Q&A. That will allow Brazil to leverage its revived arms industry, and easily add weapons like Mectron’s MAR-1 radar-killer missile. Throw in the ability to participate in the future design of a carrier-based Sea Gripen variant to replace ancient A-4 Skyhawks on Brazil’s carrier, and Saab’s industrial combination overcame the Gripen’s reliance on an American engine and other equipment.
The Brazilian Air Force has a dedicated website to explain its choice. Dassault issued a terse statement pointing out the presence of US parts on Gripens, and positioning the Rafale in a different league. Which may be true, but it’s also true that global fighter buys have historically been heavily weighted toward a less-expensive league. Sources: Brazil MdD, “FX-2: Amorim anuncia vencedor de programa para compra de novos cacas” | MdD, “Perguntas & Respostas sobre a definição do Programa F-X2″ (Q&A) | Dassault, “FX2 contest – 2013/12/18″ | Folha de Sao Paulo, “Dilma agradece Hollande por apoio contra espionagem dos EUA”.
Brazil picks Gripen NG
Dec 6/13: T-X. Boeing and Saab AB sign a Joint Development Agreement (JDA) to jointly develop and build a new advanced, cost-efficient advanced jet training solution for the USA’s upcoming T-X competition to replace the U.S. Air Force’s aging supersonic T-38s. The JDA has Boeing as the prime contractor and Saab AB as primary partner. Its scope covers design, development, production, support, sales and marketing of “a completely new designed aircraft, built to meet the needs of the Air Force.”
That probably places their offering outside of the Gripen family. With that said, Boeing’s predecessor companies did take Northrop’s YF-17 and develop it into the “new” F/A-18 Hornet. There’s a difference between “new” and “clean sheet”. Sources: Boeing, ”
Boeing and Saab Sign Joint Development Agreement on T-X Family of Systems Training Competition”.
Sept 18/13: Switzerland. The Swiss upper house (Ständerat, or Council of States) votes 27 – 17 in favor of the Gripen fighter deal, following a 119 – 70 – 5 vote in the Swiss National Council. That completes elected political approval, but the deal is very likely to need approval in a countrywide referendum. If so, May 2014 is crunch time. Sources: SBC’s SwissInfo: “Gripen go-ahead: Fighter jets given parliamentary all-clear” | Saab Group, Sept 18/13 release.
Sept 12/13: Czech Republic. After over a year of negotiations, the Czech Government has agreed on terms to lease its 14 Gripen aircraft (12 JAS-39C, 2 JAS-39D) for another 14 years, to 2029. The next step is for the contract to be detailed and then formalized in a signed agreement.
The current 10-year, CZK 19.6 billion (about $1.033 billion) lease-to-buy arrangement lasts until 2015, so there’s no urgent rush. Still, it’s nice to settle the issue after a long period of proposed interim extensions (q.v. Feb 14/12), threats to end the lease (q.v. March 15/13), etc. The new Rusnok government appeared eager to settle the issue on a long term basis (q.v. July 15/13), and has successfully created a framework for doing so. Source: Swedish FXM export agency, Sept 12/13 | See also Saab, “Gripen for the Czech Republic”.
Czechs agree to new 14-year lease terms
Sept 11/13: T-X? Aviation Week reports that Boeing may abandon its push for a clean-sheet advanced jet trainer design, and hook up with Saab to offer a Gripen variant for the USA’s T-X. Subsequent comments from Saab EVP Lennart Sindahl that “We remain focused on the continued development of the Gripen E and the fighter will never be a trainer” make sense from a branding point of view, but Sindahl adds that Saab is open to new business opportunities, and using 2-seat JAS-39Ds as the base would offer an interesting recycling of Saab’s last-generation design.
There’s no doubt that a JAS-39 Gripen, which is flown by Britain’s Empire Test Pilot School, can effectively simulate the most advanced jets. It comes built for supersonic speeds and high Gs, with a helmet-mounted sight, modern weapons, and proven low operating costs. Even with a lower-end radar than AESA-equipped front line variants, it would serve well as a swing-role entrant that could fly Air National Guard (ANG) roles for domestic emergencies. It could also function as an excellent aggressor aircraft, providing capabilities that equal or exceed existing F-16C aggressors at a lower operating cost. F-22s are already using much more primitive T-38s as opponents in order to keep operating costs down, so having Gripens on hand would be a notable upgrade.
Those capabilities set Gripen apart from the General Dynamics/ Alenia M-346, but not from the Lockheed Martin/ KAI T-50, whose TA-50 and FA-50 variants can perform air policing and aggressor roles at a lesser but possibly adequate level.
That’s why price is likely to be the key for Saab – and for Boeing. On the one hand, the notional T-X order of 300 planes would double total Gripen production since the fighter’s inception, creating some economies of scale for a JAS-39T. Boeing can already deliver the significantly larger, twin-engine Super Hornet for around $60 million; still, in order to beat competitors hovering around $30 million, they’ll need to do more than just use 1 GE F404 engine and a cheaper radar. Sources: Aviation Week, “Boeing And Saab To Propose Gripen For T-X”.
Sept 4/13: Operating Costs. South Africa’s iOL News offers a snapshot of JAS-39C/D operational costs per flight hour (CPFH) for the South African Air Force. That’s a tricky area, for 3 reasons. The 1st is that there’s no standard formula, so different militaries can include different costs. The 2nd twist is that the SAAF fleet’s small size increases “dry” costs per flying hour, as fixed costs are amortized over fewer planes. The 3rd twist is unique to low-readiness countries like South Africa, who spend more per flight hour because they allocate few flight hours, but still have to maintain all of the jets. Even with all these caveats in mind, it’s still an interesting data point, especially alongside its comparison to a popular platform:
“[SAAF Director of Combat Systems] General John Bayne… said the “dry costs” (without fuel) for a Gripen were R104 600 per flying hour and fuel cost R30 800, giving a total “wet cost” of R135 400. Hawks fly at a dry cost of R67 500, with fuel costs of R15 400 and a total cost of R82 900…. “To date the Hawks have flown over 10 000 major accident-free flying hours since 2005 and the Gripens 3 500 since 2008,” said Bayne.”
At current exchange rates, that translates into JAS-39C/D flying-hour costs of about $10,465 dry and $13,350 wet; both are wildly higher than IHS Jane’s Aerospace and Defence Consulting’s 2012 estimate of $4,700 per flight hour. The same study’s figures for the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet help provide some perspective, however, with a base US Navy Super Hornet figure of $11,000 CPFH, but $24,400 listed for Australia. Fortunately, we have a 2nd set of SAAF data points from a more popular platform. Gen. Bayne’s figures for the sub-sonic Hawk Mk.120 trainer & light attack jets translate to $6,755 dry and $8,295 wet. One good way to normalize Gripen figures for prospective customers is probably to create a ratio involving in-service Hawk trainers under similar circumstances vs. SAAF costs, then adjust from there. Source: iOL, “SAAF jets aren’t in storage, says general” | StratPost, “Gripen operational cost lowest of all western fighters: Jane’s”.
July 24/13: Netherlands. Financieel Dagblad reports that Saab’s final offer to the Dutch government included penalties for late delivery. A reasonable move, given that the F-35 is about as close to operational capability now as it was 5 years ago.
To make things more interesting, Rekenkamer estimates are saying that the country’s EUR 4.5 billion acquisition budget is likely to buy just 33-35 F-35As, instead of the 85 fighters originally planned. Dutch News.
July 18/13: South Africa. DefenceWeb quotes Saab South Africa President Magnus Lewis-Olsson, who tells them that the SAAF’s interim Gripen support contracts ended in April 2013. Saab was hoping to get a support contract in place within the next few months, but if it doesn’t, SAAF personnel can only provide front-line maintenance. Over time, their fleet will become unable to fly. defenceWeb | DID: “South Africa’s Sad Military: Why Maintenance Matters.”
July 17/13: Weapon School. Saab South Africa President Magnus Lewis-Olsson tells defenceWeb that a planned global Gripen Fighter Weapon School in South Africa (q.v. July 10-18/12) represents a missed opportunity for the country. The 1,000 square meter training HQ would have been at AFB Overberg in the Western Cape, which Saab liked for its central location and available flight space. The course would have used a mix of Swedish and South African pilots, keeping those SAAF pilots current, and reimbursing the SAAF for the use of 4-6 Gripens that aren’t flying anyway due to budget cuts. Oddly, the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) didn’t move to support the initiative, and in fact seemed to campaign against it.
Meanwhile, Saab has completed its syllabus and is ready to begin construction of the School and start training. Other countries have expressed interest, and Saab will be moving forward. defenceWeb.
July 15/13: 1st JAS-39E. Saab announces that they’ve begun building pre-production test aircraft 39-8, the 1st complete pre-production version of the JAS-39E. They’re beginning with the front fuselage, as part of manufacturing and assembling of all parts of the fuselage. After the fuselage join comes the installation of cables, mount systems, the outer shell and other equipment. Other parts of the airplane are also being assembled during this process, and they will eventually be joined to or installed in the fuselage. Saab.
July 12/13: Czech Republic. The new Rusnok government’s defence minister Vlastimil Picek says that he’ll submit a proposal for extending the Czech Republic’s JAS-39C/D Gripen lease after the Chamber of Deputies’ expected vote of confidence in early August 2013. Military deputy chief-of-staff Bohuslav Dvorak added that the next lease would be longer than the 10-year lease signed in 2004.
The reality is that the Czech defense budget dropped 25.6% in absolute terms from 2005 – 2012, from CZK 58.44 billion to 43.47 billion and down to about 1.1% of GDP. The dueling imperative are that the Czech Air Force can’t realistically switch to another fighter, given the costs of new training, spare parts, etc. At the same time, they need to negotiate a deal they can afford within that small budget. Prague Daily Monitor | Defense News re: budget comparison.
May 15/13: Sea Gripen. Saab remains serious about its “Sea Gripen NG,” and has been working on the idea since their May 2011 announcement. They’re targeting India, Italy and the UK alongside Brazil, but India has picked the MiG-29K, and is developing their own lower-tier naval LCA fighter. Italy and the UK both seem committed to the F-35B. The leaves Brazil, where a Sea Gripen may be necessary, in order to compete for F-X2.
Brazil’s Navy is expected to buy its own fighters to equip a new aircraft carrier, which is expected to replace NAe Sao Paulo around 2025. They expect their 24 new fighters to be the same type as the FAB’s F-X-2 winner, which leaves Saab competing against 2 proven naval fighters in Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornets and Dassault’s Rafale-M.
To help build their case, former Brazilian naval aviator Cmote. Romulo “Leftover” Sobral is invited to flight test a JAS-39D, in order to verify the design’s basic suitability for naval conversion. Sobral liked the aircraft’s intuitive flight controls, ground handling, stability at low airspeeds, acceleration response, handling at the high angles of attack used in carrier landings, and good visibility. He even liked the flight suit. The plane landed in 800m, and Comte Sobral believes that the plane does have the basic requirements to become an effective naval fighter. The Sea Gripen’s lack of proven status, and absence of even a flying prototype, will still hurt the JAs-39. On the other hand, the time lag from F-X2 to a naval buy gives Brazilian industry a unique opportunity to participate in designing the Sea Gripen. Saab Gripen Blog | Full article at Defesa Aerea & Naval [in Portuguese].
April 10/13: Brazil. Saab executive Eddy de la Motta is quoted as saying that Brazilian JAS-39 Gripen NGs would use AEL’s avionics, creating a forked version under the wider development effort. This will help Saab meet industrial offset obligations, and also create commonality for Brazil’s fighter fleet, but integrating all of those components with the plane’s mission computers, OFP core software, weapons, etc. is not a trivial task. Elbit subsidiary AEL’s avionics are used in many Brazilian aircraft, with the exception of the Mirage 2000s that will retire as F-X2 fighters enter the FAB.
A less comprehensive suite of AEL avionics will also be used in Boeing’s F/A-18 International, which offers AEL’s wide-screen display and some other components to all potential customers. Defense News.
March 13/13: Denmark. The Danes pick up their fighter competition as promised, following their announced hiatus in April 2010. Invited bidders include the same set of Lockheed Martin (F-35A), Boeing (Super Hornet), and Saab (JAS-39E/F) – plus EADS (Eurofighter), who had withdrawn from the Danish competition in 2007. The goal of a 2014 F-16 replacement decision has been moved a bit farther back, and now involves a recommendation by the end of 2014, and a selection by June 2015.
The Flyvevabnet are reported to have 30 operational F-16s, with 15 more in reserve, out of an original order of 58. Past statements indicate that they’re looking to buy around 25 fighters as replacements, but there are reports of a range from 24-32, depending on price. Danish Forsvarsministeriet [in Danish] | Eurofighter GmbH | Saab | JSF Nieuws.
March 8/13: Brazil. Brazil has asked the 3 F-X2 finalists to extend their bids for another 6 months from the March 30/13 deadline, as the Brazilian commodity economy remains mired in a 2-year slump. The competitors had hoped for a decision by the time the LAAD 2013 expo opened in April.
The length of the cumulative delays could create changes for the bids, and it effectively squashes any faint hopes that the new jets would be able to fly in time for the 2014 World Cup. Reuters.
March 15/13: Czech Republic. Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas says that the latest Swedish contract extension offer doesn’t meet Czech “expectations,” and makes noises about a competition to choose different fighters. He’ll repeat that line in July, as negotiations continue. Ceske Noviny.
March 13/13: South Africa. Opposition Democratic Alliance MP David Maynier forces the ANC government to acknowledge that 12 of its 26 delivered JAS-39/C/D fighters were in long term storage, and sums up the situation this way:
“The sad facts of the Gripen system are as follows: 26 Gripen fighter jets were delivered; 10 or fewer are operational; 12 are in long-term storage; there are six qualified pilots; there are about 150 flying hours available to the entire squadron for 2013.”
Read “South Africa’s Sad Military: Why Maintenance Matters” for full coverage.
Jan 17/13: Sweden. The Swedish government gives formal approval to the planned purchase of 60 JAS-39E/F fighters, a bit more than a month after the Swedish Riksdagen voted 264-18-19 in favor.
This isn’t an order, just approval to negotiate one – and there’s a big condition attached. If Switzerland backs out, and there are no orders from other countries, the Swedish deal will also die.
The SEK 47.2 billion framework contract is announced on Feb 15/13, see contracts section for more. Saab’s Gripen blog | Swede