Sweden responded to a re-established request by the Government of Croatia on the possible purchase or lease of the SAAB JAS 39 C/D Gripen multi-role fighter.
According to the Swedish Defence Export Authority (Försvarsexportmyndigheten; FXM) information was sent on Friday 23 October regarding the purchase of 8 to 12 new-to-build aircraft.
It is the latest development in talks that go back all the way to 2007, when Croatia started to look for a future replacement for its aging but recently in Ukraine modernized Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 “Fishbed” fighters. Earlier Croatia seemed to be interested in leasing Swedish Air Force Gripens, but partly because those aircraft are in high demand Zagreb now seems to be willing to look at new aircraft instead.
Meanwhile a group of 150 Brazilian engineers arrived at the SAAB plant in Linköping last week, starting their training in building and maintaining the newer Gripen E/F model of which the Força Aérea Brasileira is purchasing at least 36 units, while leasing possible 12 to 16 aircraft until the bigger and more capable Gripen E/F is ready. Talks with Slovakia on the lease of the Gripen C/D are also still underway.
The C/D model of the Gripen already flies with the air forces of Sweden, the Czech Republic, Hungary, South Africa and Thailand.
Prosecutors in Brazil are looking into possible irregularities in the deal for 36 Saab Gripen fighter aircraft for the Brazilian Air force. Reports about an investigation into the 5.4 billion USD deal emerged last week.
A price difference of 900 million USD between a 2009 proposal and the final price that was agreed last year, has sparked the interest of prosecutors. The Brazilian Air Force has already remarked that the difference is caused by changing exchange rates and additional terms in the contract, such as flight simulators.
Saab has denied anything is wrong with the deal, that is a major export success for the Swedish company and its first export agreement for the new Gripen E/F aircraft. Saab states the price increase is the result of changes wished for by the Brazilians, such as custom avionics. For example: the Força Aérea Brasileira wishes for one big multifunction LCD display in the cockpit in stead of three.
The odds are in favour of the SAAB JAS 39E/F Gripen to become the next multirole fighter of the Finnish Air Force (Ilmavoimat), with the French Dassault Rafale in very close range, according to Scandinavian sources on 6 April 2015.
Finland has slowly started with looking for a replacement for its 55 McDonnell Douglas (Boeing) F/A-18C Hornet single-seat and 7 F/A-18D two-seat multirole fighters. With the race officially starting coming Autumn, the participants are already warming up their engines.
Finnish-Swedish combat jet
With both Helsinki and Stockholm having agreed to increased cooperation between their defence organisations, a combined Finnish-Swedish combat jet fleet with the same type of aircraft would make matters even more easier in case both nations choose to act together in their defence against enemies like, let’s say, Russia. Not only from a military tactical point of view, but certainly from a logistical one. Any battle is easily lost with a failing flow of spare parts.
The Swedish Gripen – from a Finnish point of view produced just a short hop by boat or plane across the Gulf of Bothnia / Baltic Sea – is currently undergoing a very interesting update which gives us already a brief look in the new capabilities Next Generation dubbed Gripen E/F. That new Gripen will be the one that the Brazilian Air Force (36 or more) is buying and that the Swedish Air Force (60 or more) has ordered.
Finland is not that far yet, but has requested and received classified documents on the capabilities of the Gripen. This has now confirmed by sources within both the Swedish Defence Materiel Administration (FMV) and within the government in Stockholm.
But the race is far from done. Just before Easter, the Finnish Chief of Defence went along for a French Air Force training mission in the backseat of a Dassault Rafale B, flying in formation with at least one other Rafale after take-off from Base Aérienne 113 Saint-Dizier (St. Dizier Airbase), situated east of Paris. As happy of any of us would be, General Jarmo Lindberg tweeted about his Rafale adventure. During earlier trials in Switzerland – where the Gripen competed against the Rafale – the Swiss Air Force said to have been very impressed by the French jet’s performances, but the Swiss government choose the Gripen because it was deemed financially a better choice, with the Swiss population shooting down the governments purchase decision leaving the Swiss Air Force without a successor to the aging and slowly obsolete Northrop F-5 fighter-bombers.
“See” stealthy fighter
Sources in Helsinki say that the Eurofighter Typhoon is considered a candidate too expensive. The same goes for the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II, but its stealthy capabilities give the American jet a nice deck of cards. However, SAAB is already on that and reportedly has developed radar and software updates that will enable the aircraft and/or the new Meteor Beyond-Visual-Range air-to-air missile to be able to “see” stealthy fighter jets anyway, by detecting other signatures like the heat exhaust caused by the aircraft’s engines.
The new Meteor is also said to outclass the weaponry of the US Air Force, which has traditionally focused on aircraft rather than missile technology. That has even worried American generals a bit, since the new Russian fighter jets such as the Sukhoi Su-35 “Flanker” and the stealthy T-50 / PAK-FA have both the electronic defence capabilities and better missiles to make life of US fighter jocks complicated. It might take F-35 pilots to launch maybe all the air-to-air missiles brought along to score one “kill”. The F-35A has only two points for those in its internal weapon bays. Sure, the jet can bring along a total load of eight AIM-120 AMRAAMS and two AIM-9 Sidewinders if the rest is put on external pylons, but having weapons on the outside kills the stealthy features that might give the F-35 the upper hand.
Whatever the Finnish government decides to buy – the comfort of the Gripen, the finesse of the Rafale or the stealthiness of the F-35 – the race is on!
The SAAB JAS 39C/D Gripen multirole fighters will become (even) better planes, thanks to a firmware upgrade very much alike a newer Android or iOS on your smartphone. “The new version will partly have new, awesome functions and fixes shortcomings on earlier versions,” says Robert Novén, test engineer at the Swedish Defence Materiel Administration (FMV) T&E division in Linköping, Sweden.
FMV T&E – FMV stands for Försvarets materielverk – has “pimped” one Gripen with the MS20 upgrade. The aircraft is – although unconfirmed – likely a D-version, making it possible for test engineers like Novén to ride in the back seat to verify and evaluate the new firmware. Forty of those test flights are now planned to take place, with another JAS 39C and another 39D modified with the new bits and bytes.
The other updates of MS20 might be less sexy, but still great. They will renew or improve the Gripen’s Ground Collission Avoidance System, its self-protection suite, Link 16, digital Combat Air Support, reconnaissance functions and support for navigation in civilian airspace.
Although Sweden has ordered 60 Gripens of the new E-standard for 2.6 to 3 billion USD, with deliveries commencing in 2018, many of the current 90 operational JAS 39C/D Gripen of the Swedish Air Force (Flygvapnet) are likely to stay in service for many years to come. Moreover, the Gripen C and D are flown by the air forces of the Czech Republic, Hungary, South Africa and Thailand. Slovakia is expected to start leasing JAS 39C/Ds within the next two years.
The A-Darter, the planned air-to-air missile for the future Brazilian Air Force SAAB JAS 39E/F fighter jet has been successfully test-fired by a South African Air Force JAS 39D Gripen at the Overberg range on 9 February 2015, the Força Aérea Brasileira (FAB) confirmed on 12 February 2015.
Brazil and South Africa are now co-operating on the A-Darter, with support from Swedish SAAB. The test was part of the continuing development of the weapon, ahead of the introduction into service of a dozen JAS 39C/Ds Brazil will lease from Sweden from 2016 forward. The C/Ds will be gradually replaced by the new E/Fs from 2019, with those aircraft been mainly assembled and partly produced by Brazil’s own Embraer aircraft company.
The recent launch of the A-Darter was aimed at testing the manoeuvrability of the missile, with the rocket launched towards a remotely-controlled aircraft. The heat-guided weapon is designed to perform while sustaining up to 100Gs, with targets within a 12 miles radius. The A-Darter’s sensor-eye is said to see the difference between the target aircraft’s infrared signature and flares the bogey might launch to fool the missile. South Africa’s Denel Dynamics is the leading company of the project.