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The JAS-39 Gripen: Sweden's 4th Generation Wild Card

The JAS-39 Gripen: Sweden's 4th Generation Wild Card

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. For a country their size, their record of project success is nothing short of amazing.

The JAS-39 Gripen ("Griffon") is a canard-winged successor to the Viggen, built as one of the world's first 4th generation fighters. It remains the only 4th generation entry in the lightweight fighter type, 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-Volvo TV commercials rather than hoped-for levels of military export success. With its 4th generation competitors clustered in the $60-100+ million range vs. the Gripen's claimed $40 million, is there a light at the end of the tunnel for Sweden's lightweight fighter?

This is DID's "anchor article" for background, news, and contract awards related to the JAS-39 Gripen. We will continue adding to and filling in this article as new information and opportunities arise, with new material highlighted in green type as is our convention. The most recent news includes a set of business arrangements with Danish companies (the Gripen is being pitched as a Danish F-16 replacement), IRIS-T SRAAM tests, and some results from the Gripen's participation in Red Flag Alaska this summer.

JAS-39: The Gripen Program

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, but Saab has recently announced the intent to acquire its partner in a deal expected to close in September 2006. 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 whole Gripen production run for all customers, according to current orders, will reach 251 aircraft. This consists of six prototypes (5 single-seat, 1 two-seat), 29 JAS-39A Batch 1s (Sweden), 76 JAS-39A Batch 2s (Sweden), 14 JAS-39B two-seater Batch 2s (Sweden), 20 JAS-39C Batch 2s (Sweden), 50 JAS-39C Batch 3s (Sweden), 12 Gripen Cs (Czech Republic), 14 JAS-39D two-seater Batch 3s (Sweden), 2 Gripen D two-seaters (Czech Republic), 19 Gripen Cs (South Africa), and 9 Gripen D two-seaters (South Africa). The Hungarian Gripen C/Ds (12 JAS-39C and 2 JAS-39D) will come from rebuilt Swedish Batch 1 and 2 aircraft.

The first planes were delivered in 1993, and the last Swedish plane is now due to be delivered in 2007. While exact figures are extremely difficult to come by, source place the average flyaway cost of the JAS-39 at about $40 million per plane.1

The Gripen is an excellent aircraft by all accounts, with attractive flyaway costs and performance, and very attractive lifetime operational costs. Its engine is a derivative of GE's F404, in use on the F/A-18 A-D Hornets and many other platforms as well. A wide variety of international equipment has successfully been tested and integrated with the aircraft including sensors, targeting pods (the LITENING III pod comes as a standard option) and an array of weapons, most recently the MBDA Meteor long-range ramjet air-air missile. Saab's international marketing deal with BAE gave the Swedish aircraft wide representation, and its ties to its parent firm of Saab Volvo have allowed it to offer an attractive program of industrial offsets to potential owners.

Unfortunately, the Gripen has lost out or been absent from consideration in important export competitions in Austria (Eurofighter), the Netherlands (F-35 JSF Tier 2 member), Finland (F-18), Poland (F-16), Switzerland (F-18), and Singapore (F-15SG Strike Eagle to replace A-4 Skyhawks). There is still some small possibility of success in Denmark (F-35 JSF Tier 3 member, JAS-39DK Gripen still on offer), Norway (F-35 JSF Tier 3 & Eurofighter memberships, JAS-39N Gripen still on offer), and even India (JAS-39 still on shortlist but chances fading close to nil). Brazil's potential order has been delayed, and Slovakia is still seen as a possibility for a small number of aircraft.

Meanwhile, Sweden is about to downsize its Gripen force to 100 aircraft, flooding the market with second-hand models and choking new production opportunities. All this in a market where export orders overall have been below Saab's expectations. Can the Gripen production line survive?

A number of factors could be cited as reasons for Saab finding itself in 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; and (in Singapore's case) its status as a single engine lightweight fighter with limited range in comparison to its competitors, and 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 it 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 rather than corporate hopes.

JAS-39: A Way Forward?

Nevertheless, Gripen International continues to pursue sales possibilities worldwide. Reports from Jane's based on a Bloomberg interview outlined Saab CEO Ake Svensson's thoughts about the aircraft's potential export customers in the coming years:

India's MRCA competition for 120-190 fighters. Saab has openly stated that it is willing to undertake full production in India, but the Gripen's short range is a disadvantage in this competition;
There is a lease requirement for up to 12 aircraft in the Baltic states (Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia);
There are hopes that Brazil's cancelled F-X programme will restart after the presidential elections;
Bulgaria stated in 2004 that it has a requirement for 20 aircraft - Sofia issued a Request for Information (RFI) to Saab in May 2006;
Croatia is looking for 12 aircraft, with an in-service date of 2011;
Greece is looking to purchase a second tranche of 30-40 advanced fighters, with the process expected to begin in 2006. See DID's report, and also the update noting that Greece is delaying any new fighter purchase;
Hungary is looking to phase out its fleet of MiG-29 aircraft by 2009;
Norway has a requirement for 44 fighter aircraft to replace its F-16s. As DID has reported, contenders include the Gripen, Eurofighter, F-35 Lightning II, and Rafale;
Romania is looking for 40 aircraft, though they seem to be more focused on used F-16s;
Slovenia requires 40 aircraft;
Switzerland is expected to start the process to replace its F-5 fleet later in 2006. As in Norway, the Gripen is competing against the F-35 Lightning II, Rafale, and Eurofighter;
Thailand is looking to replace its F-5s, and is looking to set the process in motion in 2007 with a view to an in-service date (ISD) of 2011;
Denmark was not mentioned in the Jane's report, but an offer has been made for replacement of their F-16 fleet with JAS-39DKs instead of F-35As. Saab's Eurofighter rivals are also in the mix.
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.

JAS-39 Gripen: Major Events

Feb 8/07: F-35 Lightning II Faces Continued Dogfights in Norway. Endre Lunde chronicles developments in Norway, including endorsement of the Gripen by one of the governing coalition's political parties.

Nov 16/06: Saab's release discusses the Gripen's performance at Red Flag Alaska. During the 11-day exercise, the 4 aircraft each flew 2 sorties per day, accumulating 340 flight hours (150 'on mission') with a staff of 12 pilots and 35 maintenance technicians.

In the tactical realm, note the release's confirmation that the JAS-39 has the ability to drop Laser Guided Bombs carried on one Gripen aircraft, using laser designator pods fitted to another Gripen aircraft. The aircraft's warning and electronic warfare systems (EWS) also got high ratings: Lt. Col. Lindberg said that "...it was almost impossible for the Red air force to get through our EW systems. We always knew where the air defense was, could avoid them and still do our work, even in very dynamic situations, with the threat getting more complex each day."

Nov 16/06: Saab announces successful tests with the IRIS-T short-range air-air missile, in order to verify Gripen compatibility. IRIS-T is in production, and is a multinational project that includes Germany, Greece, Italy, Sweden, Norway and Spain. It was developed following German experience with the Russian R-73/AA-11 Archer on East German MiG-29s, which caused them to rethink the entire design philosophy behind ASRAAM and pull out of the multinational project.

Nov 3/06: Saab and Danish defence and aerospace company Terma announce a Memorandum of Understanding for a longer-term business relationship. As a first concrete step, Terma and Saab signed a Contract for production of DKK 10 million (about $1.7 million) worth of Gripen parts, to begin immediately at Terma's facilities in Grenaa, Denmark.

Nov 1/06: Danish Aerotech A/S and Saab AB conclude a conditional cooperation agreement worth up to DKK 200 million (about $34.3 million). If Denmark decides to purchase the Gripen fighter as a replacement for its current F-16 fighters, Danish Aerotech is expecting to supply Saab with mechanical, electrical and electronic components as part of the new cooperation agreement. Since its establishment in 1992, Danish Aerotech has been a Saab partner responsible for all maintenance on Danish Saab T-17 training aircraft.

August 23/06: Gripen International announces its repsonse to Bulgaria's May 2006 RFI: 16 JAS-39 Gripen C/D aircraft (12 single and 4 two-seater) with full support and training provided in cooperation with the Swedish Armed Forces. Several financing options were outlined, and Saab/GI's usual 100% offset promise was included. The first aircraft could be delivered within two years.

June 26/06: Flight International reports that 7 Swedish Air Force Gripens (5 JAS-39Cs and 2 two-seater JAS-39Ds), Two Tp84s (C-130H), and 12 pilots will be headed to Eilson AFB, Alaska under Lt. Col. Ken Lindberg for the latest Red Flag Alaska exercise. As a traditionally neutral country, Sweden has not participated in such exercises before. The Gripens will be deployed with LITENING III targeting pods, and will participate in both air-air and air-ground missions (4-6 aircraft each day, 2 missions per day), including leading mixed air groups from participating nations. They will take off from Ronneby AFB, Sweden on July 13, fly mostly overland without air-air refueling, and arrive on July 17, 2006. This Red Flag Alaska will run from July 24 - August 4, 2006, and is expected to involve 47 fighters and 6 support aircraft from participating countries. See Flight International article for more on the Gripen deployment, and a US Air Force Link article has more background re: the Red Flag Alaska exercises.

June 20/06: The JAS-39 Gripen successfully completes its first test set of MBDA Meteor missile firings. Further flight test campaigns will be performed with the Meteor on the Gripen combat aircraft during 2006 and beyond.

May 15-16/06: Gripen International announces the tabling of offers to Denmark and Norway for JAS-39 Gripens to replace those nations' aging F-16 fleets. The aircraft would have "longer range and greater payload" than existing JAS-39 C/D Gripens, but other than that no details of the offers themselves are released. For slightly more background, see also their Dec. 9, 2005 release "Gripen for Denmark Tailor-made to suit Danish needs!"

April 25/06: The Swedish Armed Forces submit their 2007 budget proposal, which includes a plan for the reduction of Sweden's Gripen force to just 100 aircraft. The remainder of the force will either be sold on the international market to approved buyers, or scrapped. See DID coverage.

March 24/06: eDefense Online publishes "Gripens in Hungary Spark EW Revival."

"The original decision to lease 14 Gripens from Sweden was made in September 2001 by the country's previous conservative government. Although many, mostly economic reasons were given for this surprise move against the US offer of Lockheed Martin (Ft. Worth, TX) F-16s, insiders in Hungary say that as a kind of "side effect," the HDF will have access to a more comprehensive electronic-warfare (EW) system that offers a more "independent" EW capability. While providing "indigenous" EW planning for the customer was included in the original December 2001 contract calling for the leasing of air-to-air-combat-oriented JAS 39A/B aircraft, when the current post-communist government altered the deal in March 2003, more capable hardware was ordered as well. The revised contract includes the lease-to-own of the unique JAS 39 EBS (Export Baseline Standard) HU (Hungary) version, which has a significantly improved EW system compared with its predecessor."

Dec 13/05: Gripen is the first aircraft to flight-validate system integration with MBDA's Meteor long-range air-air missile. See release.

June 8/05: Saab announced that it will lay off 350 workers in four business units, owing to a reduction of work for the JAS-39 Gripen. The 350 lay-offs involve workers at Saab Aerostructures, Saab Aerosystems, Saab Aircraft and Saab Support. Saab had already laid off 1,000 people in 2003 and 2004; and including this latest move, notice had now been given to 760 people in 2005. The company warned that it expected to lay off a further 1,000 - 1,500 people in 2005 and 2006.

JAS-39 Gripen: Contracts & Awards
July 17/06: Trainee test pilots at Britain's world-class ETPS (Empire Test Pilots' School), which is operated by QinetiQ in partnership with the UK MOD, have signed a new agreement that increases their use of the JAS-39 Gripen. In 2005 all syllabus requirements were met, zero flights were lost due to unserviceability, and where all teaching goals in all areas were exceeded. The new 2006 deal will will see a 30% increase in student numbers, a 20% increase in flights per student, the training of a third ETPS Instructor Pilot (IP) and the inclusion of Flight Test Engineer students within a refined syllabus. The 2006 program goes very well, with 56 sorties in just 10 flying days, and no downtime due to mechanical issues.

The 2006 test pilot students will be drawn from the French Air Force, the United States Navy, the Royal Australian Air Force and Britain's Royal Air Force. See Saab release for more details.

July 3/06: Saab received a SEK 1 billion ($130 million equivalent) order from the Swedish Defence Material Administration, covering continued development of the Gripen System. The order reportedly covers various software upgrades, as well as other development activities supporting the long term development of the Gripen system. Work will be performed at Saab Aerosystems and Saab Aerotech in Linkoping, Sweden as well as at Saab Avitronics in Jarfalla and Kista, Sweden. See release.

March 23/06: Saab Aerosystems appoints Swiss firm RUAG as single source supplier for drop tanks to the Gripen. At the same time, an initial EUR 4 million order for more than 60 export drop-tanks was announced, with first deliveries scheduled for August 2007.

Dec 29/05: Saab receives a SEK 150 million ($18.9 million) contract for integration of the IRIS-T 4th generation short-range air-air missile on the Gripen. Saab is planning to fire the first shot with IRIS-T in 2007, but the integration process will continue to 2009.

Additional Readings & Sources

Gripen International Official Site - See also their Paris Air Show 2005 site.
The Saab JAS-39 Gripen

edefense Online (July 14/05) - Gripen Settles In. From the late and lamented eDefense Online, this excellent article covers the Gripen's evolution and technical capabilities very thoroughly. Google cache version, of necessity.

Air Force Technology - Gripen Multi-Role Fighter Aircraft, Sweden
Swedish FMV Procurement Agency - JAS-39 Gripen. Note that their "Further Development" page re: "Batch 3" has been largely realized; the future developments discussed here are about the platform's next steps.
Ericsson Microwave (soon to be Saab) - Ericsson PS-05/A
Saab (July 3/06) - Saab receives 1 Billion SEK order for Continued Development of the Gripen System
Flight International (June 27/06) - New Gripen Variants Studied by Saab
Flight International (June 27/06) - Red Flag Alaska exercise to test Sweden's Gripens
DID (June 13/06) - Saab Acquires Ericsson Microwave Systems. Once the acquisition is complete, Saab will own all of JAS.
DID (anchor article) - nEUROn UCAV Project Rolling Down the Runway. Saab is a major player in this stealth attack UAV. Part of the deal included offsetting Swedish government financing in order to keep the JAS-39 Gripen current.
DID (May 11/06) - Norway Remains in F-35's SDD Program But Evaluates Other Aircraft. The Gripen faces off vs. the 5th generation F-35, and the 4th generation Rafale and Eurofighter.
DID (May 4/06) - 2007 Budget Proposal Cuts Swedish Gripen Force, Looks to Buy Strategic Lift. The target number put forward is 100 Gripens, down from 204.
DID (March 8/06) - Mirage 2000s Withdrawn As India's MRCA Fighter Competition Changes. Technically, the Gripen is still a possibility for India. Realistically, it's a long, long shot.
DID (June 16/05) - Dassault Discusses Global Fighter Market to 2015. Some interesting insights regarding the overall market and replacement timelines.
DID (June 13/06) - Gripen Offsets Set - But Drooping Sales Leave Workers Gripin'
Agence France-Presse (June 8/05): Saab Lays Off 350 Workers
DID (May 27/05) - Meteor Missile Will Make Changes to Accommodate F-35 (and DID's analysis of why).

1 Defense-Aerospace.com's July 2006 report attempting to estimate the true cost of western fighters placed the JAS-39C Gripen at over $68.9 million per plane based on the offer to Poland, and estimated the plane's program cost (R&D amotized) at $78.7 million. To give the reader a quick idea of how that benchmarks, costs for the F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet were estimated at $ 78.4/ 95.3 million, the Eurofighter at $ 100-120/ 120-145 million, and the F-35 Lightning II at $ 115 LRIP / 112.5 million. Read the full report here. The report also noted Saab's official response of $35-40 million per plane flyaway costs, however, and acknowledged the problems involved in calculating per-plane figures based on foreign orders due to other costs and terms.

Source : Defence Industry Daily (Defense News)
Military Purchasing News for Defense Procurement Managers and Contractors

last updated on April 2007

Photo : South African JAS-39D Gripen International



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