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? In 2013 a win in Brazil started to answer that question.

JAS-39: The Gripen Program

Saab’s JAS-39A-D Gripens

“Could-have” weapons
(click to view full)

The JAS-39 Gripen is an excellent lightweight fighter by all accounts, with attractive flyaway costs[1] 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

Hungarian JAS-39C/Ds
(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[2] 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[3] – and we had no jammers of our own with us. We got one Fox 2 kill[4] 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. Brazil’s 2014 purchase will give them a role in production, and made Embraer a design partner in the 2-seat JAS-39F.

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[4] 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:

The multinational UK Empire Test Pilot’s School has bought Gripen flight hours from Saab since 1999. They switched from the JAS-39B to the JAS-39D in 2014.

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. A limited international marketing agreement for the JAS-39E/F is being negotiated with Brazil’s Embraer, but that isn’t done yet.

Unfortunately, the Gripen has lost out in or been absent from important export competitions in Austria (Eurofighter), Finland (F-18), Japan (DNP – F-35), India (Rafale, but not closed), the Netherlands (F-35), Norway (F-35), Poland (F-16), Qatar (DNP – TBD), South Korea (DNP – F-35), Switzerland (F-18, then a win but a lost referendum), and Singapore (F-15SG Strike Eagle to replace A-4 Skyhawks). Meanwhile, Sweden downsized 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 were 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? Upgraded variants have given the fighters new traction in the global marketplace.

JAS-39 Gripen: The Way Forward

JAS-39NG: Evolution
(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 will be JAS-39E/Fs, though they’re also referred to as Gripen NG (“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. So far, that positioning has been right on the money in Brazil and Switzerland.

Gripen NG
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.

New weapons integration will continue, highlighted by the long-range Meteor air-to-air missile in 2014 – 2015. The sale to Brazil may be especially helpful in this regard, as it creates a customer with full source-code access who will be very interested in integrating their own weapons and systems. They’ll be building on a set of pre-planned upgrades, which form the core of the JAS-39E/F’s improvements.

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.

Structural/ Mechanical

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.[5] 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, Swiss, and Brazilian governments are aimed at freezing the configuration for the JAS-39E/F/BR, which will feed back into the final industrial team.

As of April 2014, a much-modified JAS-39D (aircraft #39-7) is the primary component test bed, with upgraded avionics including a digital HUD, a production-standard ES-05 Raven AESA radar, and the SkyGuard IRST. Saab is currently assembling aircraft #39-8, a more representative test prototype of the JAS-39E/F that’s due to fly in 2015. Aircraft #39-9 is due to join the test fleet in 2016 as a primary system testbed, while aircraft #39-10 is due to fly in 2017 in the final JAS-39E configuration at the production-standard weight.

Future Gripens?

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 Short Take-Off and Landing (STOL) 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.

Sea Gripens have a possible future role in Brazil as a naval aircraft on Brazil’s NAe Sao Paolo or its successor. They also exist as a very unlikely backup to Britain’s F-35B Lightning IIs on the new CVF carriers, should absolute disaster strike.

Export Opportunities

Czech JAS-39C/Ds
(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 + 60 JAS-39E upgrade), Brazil (36), South Africa (28), the Czech Republic (14 lease/buy), Hungary (14 lease/buy), and Thailand (12).

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 report from Jane’s, based on that interview, added more specifics. Subsequent developments have closed off some opportunities, and added others.

Still open

Argentina: The country has been looking to replace its aged fighter fleet, and is discussing a deal for 24 JAS-39E/Fs, to be signed through Brazil’s Embraer. The catch? The USA and Britain both make critical parts.

Baltics: There is an lease requirement for up to 12 aircraft in Estonia, Latvia & Lithuania, but no active pursuit yet.

Belgium: interest formally notified in 2014.

Bulgaria: Stated in 2004 that it has a requirement for 20 aircraft to replace 6 MiG-21s and 15 MiG-29s. Issued a Request for Information (RFI) to Saab in May 2006. A 2011 RFI cut that to 8 planes. No movement or decision, but Russian aggression seems to be adding to their sense of urgency.

Croatia: Was looking for 8-12 aircraft, with an in-service date of 2011. A JAS-39C/D offer was presented, with Swedish JAS-39As to be loaned as an interim force. No action as of October 2014.

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. Still in limbo.

Finland: Studying a EUR 6 billion program to replace their 62 remaining F/A-18C/D Hornets. Possible joint air defense cooperation with Sweden would help, but Gripen isn’t compatible with their stocks of AIM-9X and AIM-120C-7 air-to-air missiles. Buy decision expected after 2020, replacement to finish by 2030.

Indonesia: Looking to replace about 16 F-5E/F fighters. Indonesia has been expanding its own SU-27/30 and F-16 fleets, but they seem to want a 3rd fighter. The shortlist is a confused mix of heavy Su-35s & F-15s, and light F-16s & JAS-39s.

Malaysia: Limping along with MiG-29Ns until 2015, but not happy. Saab will offer 12-24 fighters and up to 2 Saab 340AEW AWACS aircraft for lease, competing against Boeing, Dassault & Eurofighter. Their AWACS offering, and unique experience with leasing, will help. So will neighboring Thailand’s happy experiences with the same mix.

Philippines: They just bought 12 South Korean FA-50s as low-cost light fighters, but the government says they will also want more advanced fighters to counter ongoing Chinese pressure, and the Gripen has been mentioned. We’ll see.

Slovakia: They need to replace their 8 serving MiG-29s, and want to cooperate with the Czech Republic, which is a Gripen customer. Believed to be looking at 6-8 JAS-39Cs, to the same standard as the CzAF.

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.


Hungary: Customer. The country extended its existing Gripen lease to 2026, and is looking to phase out its fleet of MiG-29s. Saab once thought that another 6 aircraft were possible within the lease extension, but that would have to be a separate deal mow.

Decided/ Closed

Brazil: Win (36 – 26E, 8F). The canceled F-X program got underway again, as Swensson had hoped, and Gripen outfought the favored Dassault Rafale. Follow-on buys could expand Brazil’s orders to 60 – 104 fighters, including a potential carrier-based variant within 10-15 years. Brazil will be a Gripen NG development and export partner, with full responsibility for the JAS-39F.

The Czech Republic: Extension. In July 2010, Saab officials said that they saw the potential for up to 10 more planes there, but the next 12-year cycle from 2015-2027 just extended the existing lease for 14 JAS-39C/Ds, while adding minor upgrades. On the other hand, continued Czech use makes a similar 6-plane lease/ buy the overwhelming favorite for Slovakia.

Denmark: DNB. Offered about 48 JAS-39DKs for their F-16 replacement competition. The Danes cancelled that competition, and now expect to buy just 25-35 fighters (F-35A, F/A-18E/F, or Eurofighter), with a decision delayed until 2014-15. Denmark is an F-35 Tier 3 industrial partner, and Saab and FXM decided not to bid in round 2.

Hungary: Extension. Renewed their 12-plane lease until 2026, and did not add any planes. Their ownership is one more reason that Slovakia is likely to fly Gripens.

India: loss. 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. Escalating costs have the buy under pressure, but even if Rafale negotiations fail, Sweden’s offer has shifted from the Gripen to collaboration on India’s own Tejas Mk.2.

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 similarly-expensive buy of just 35 or so F-35As.

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 new aircraft, but cut that down to 24 used F-16C/D Block 25s from Portugal.

Switzerland: canceled (22 JAS-39E picked, but lost referendum). 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 in 2013, and Parliament ratified the decision, but a lack of courage in defending their position cost the government the referendum in 2014.

Thailand: Win (12). was looking to replace its aging F-5s, and Gripen won against more F-16s or Russian SU-30s. A follow on order brought their total to 12 JAS-39C/Ds, as part of a package that also included 2 S340 AEW planes. 2014 reports indicate that they may want another 6.

JAS-39 Gripen: Major Events


Saab will build JAS-39Fs as well; Live opportunities in: Indonesia, Malaysia, Slovakia; Future opportunities in the Philippines? Thailand?; Government blows referendum in Switzerland, deal dead.

CzAF JAS-39C, L-159As
(click to view full)

June 17/15: The cause of the Hungarian Air Force JAS-39C Gripen crash last week is being attributed to software issues, according to the country’s defense minister. This is pre-empting the outcome of the official investigation, with defense minister Csaba Hende citing initial details of that investigation.

Dec 15/14: Belgium. Sweden’s FMX defense export agency indicates that back in June it had received a request on joining a feasibility study for Belgium’s future combat aircraft procurement. FXM of course accepted and recently submitted a background document to the Belgian Ministry of Defence. The request applies to next generation Gripen Es. Belgium is going to upgrade its F-16s so they have ample time to make a decision. The F-35 is seen as a strong contender, if the Belgians can afford it.

Nov 9/14: Argentina. Argentina may want to do a deal with Brazil (q.v. Oct 22/14), but Britain has now publicly said “no.” To be more precise, they reiterate the continued existence of a ban. A spokesperson for the UK Department of Business, Innovation and Skills:

“We are determined to ensure that no British-licensable exports or trade have the potential to be used by Argentina to impose an economic blockade on the Falkland Islanders or inhibit their legitimate rights to develop their own economy…”

About 30% of the JAS-39E/F will be British, from the ejection seats to the radar, landing gear, and a number of electronic systems. Embraer could try to downgrade and substitute, but Argentina lacks the money to finance such an ambitious effort. Now add the fact that a newly-Republican US Senate and House would block export’s of GE’s F414 engines. As knowledgeable observers expected, Argentina will have to look elsewhere. C4ISR & Networks, “Argentina Buying Gripens? Brits Say ‘No Way'”.

Oct 22/14: Argentina. During the Embraer KC-390 medium jet transport’s rollout, Argentina and Brazil sign a formal “Alianca Estrategica em Industria Aeronautica.” Argentina is already making parts for the KC-390, and they need a larger partner for a number of other reasons. The FAB’s releases add that:

“El Gobierno nacional decidio iniciar una negociacion con la administracion de Dilma Rousseff para la adquisicion de 24 aviones Saab Gripen dentro del programa denominado FX 2…”

Regional export rights are also expected to be part of the $5+ billion deal, which is signed on Oct 24/14. That could get interesting, because the Gripen has systems from the USA and Britain in it. You might be able to replace electronics, but it’s expensive – and ejection seats and engines are a lot tougher. Sources: FAB NOTIMP, “Argentina quiere comprar 24 cazas supersonicos”.

Oct 18/14: Finland. The Finnish government has commissioned a working group to investigate Finland’s future tactical and strategic air defense options, with the tactical level centered around an estimated EUR 6 billion project to replace the country’s 60+ F/A-18C/D Hornets. New fighters would be delivered by 2030, at which point the Hornet fleet would be retired; but The working group is also looking to see whether it’s possible to upgrade the existing Hornets, which beat the JAS-39A/B Gripen and 2 other contenders in 1992. MoD official Lauri Puranen puts it this way:

“A 30-year old Formula 1 car can’t survive in this world, and we need to find out if a 30-year old fighter jet can…”

The answer depends on what you want them for, and how much better newer alternatives like the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, JAS-39E/F Gripen, F-35A/B etc. might be for the missions you need. An increasingly aggressive Russia, armed with SU-30SM, SU-34, and SU-35 fighters, is a significant threat – and its long-range S-400 anti-aircraft missiles can cover all of Finland. The Finns seem to understand this time, because the study will also look at options like joint air defense with Sweden, or joining the NATO alliance.

A decision to pursue joint air defense with Sweden could give the JAS-39E/F Gripen a “second time lucky” edge, but Finland’s stocks of AIM-9X and AIM-120C-7 air-to-air missiles are currently incompatible, and Russian anti-aircraft missiles could force a need for stealth that pushes detection range outside of Finnish airspace. The missile-compatible and stealthy F-35 also has a constituency (q.v. April 22/14), and so does the less expensive F/A-18E/F, but the Super Hornet may not have a live production line by then. Sources: FDF (2010), “The Successor of the Hornet Needs to Be Decided Only in the Early Twenties” | YLE Uutiset, “Finnish Defence Forces to replace aging Hornet fighter fleet” | Corporal Frisk, “Replacing the ‘capabilities of the Hornet fighter aircraft'”.

Sept 17/14: IHS Jane’s reports that:

“Saab is offering “100% technology transfer” in its bid to supply the Indonesian Air Force (Tentara Nasional Indonesia Angkatan Udara – TNI-AU) with its JAS 39 Gripen combat aircraft, a company executive has told IHS Jane’s.”

It’s a similar offer to the ones they made to India and to Brazil. Indonesia also has a native aviation industry, though PT Dirgantara has been focused on transport aircraft (CN-235, C-212) and helicopters (AS332). With that said, if Southeast Asia is an area of focus for Saab (q.v. Sept. 8/14), it makes sense to have a local partner who can build aerostructures and perform advanced maintenance. Sources: IHS Jane’s Defence Industry, “Saab offers “100% technology transfer” in bid to secure TNI Gripen deal”.

Sept 8/14: Indonesia. Saab begins actively pitching the JAS-39 to Indonesia, which indicates some level of belief in a serious competition, and in Saab’s odds within that competition. To an outside observer, “F-16 capability at a lower ownership cost” seems to be the basic competitive positioning.

The other driver at work may be the global market as a whole. An objective look for Saab sees the Middle East opting for the most expensive jets, while Asia’s biggest players have already made their picks. Africa doesn’t have much opportunity to offer beyond the South African win, and the coming deal with Brazil will cover any possibilities in Latin America. There are a number of small country opportunities in Europe, but those competitions are mostly in limbo. By process of elimination, Southeast Asia is a necessary focus for Saab right now, and Thailand has shown that even small wins lead to larger buys in time. A “max win” scenario in the region could add small but notable Gripen fleets in Malaysia and Indonesia, then follow-on possibilities in the Philippines (q.v. July 10/14), and perhaps even Vietnam over the medium-long term. Every regional win will make Saab more competitive within the region. Sources: Saab AB, “Gripen: Ideal for Indonesian Air Force”.

Aug 30/14: Slovakia. The Czech Republic, Slovakia and Sweden have signed a Letter of Intent to co-operate on using the JAS-39 Gripen, “…for ett bilateralt samarbete kring en gemensam luftrumsovervakning av Slovakien och Tjeckien.” Which is to say, as a foundation for bilateral airspace overwatch co-operation between Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

Note that past reports have gone as far as positing a common Gripen fighter squadron (q.v. April 3/14) if Slovakia also buys the aircraft, organized as a main base and a secondary forward base. Sources: Swedish FXM, “Idag har Sverige, Tjeckien och Slovakien undertecknat en avsiktsforklaring rorande samarbete kring Gripen” | Flightglobal, “Slovakia creeps closer to Gripen agreement”.

July 21/14: Denmark. Confirmed media reports indicate that Saab declined to bid in the re-launched Danish fighter competition, believing that they faced a situation similar to Norway’s where Lockheed Martin’s F-35 had already been picked. Denmark is already a Tier 3 F-35 industrial partner.

Boeing (F/A-18 Super Hornet) and Airbus (Eurofighter Typhoon) bid alongside Lockheed Martin and Saab, for an expected order of just 24-32 fighters. In contrast, the Norwegian experience appears to have triggered a more gimlet-eyed appraisal of opportunities by Saab, who also declined to participate in a recent Canadian RFI that was believed to be a political front. Each bid costs millions to prepare, so it’s a smart use of money – if one’s corporate intelligence is good enough to make consistently accurate assessments. Sources: Swedish FXM, “FXM not submitting tender for Gripen to Denmark” | Politiken, “Sverige opgiver at saelge kampfly til Danmark” | Reuters, “Saab will not bid for Denmark warplane order -newspaper” | Seeking Alpha, “Lockheed, Boeing, Airbus enter bids for Danish fighter jet tender”.

No bid in Denmark

July 15/14: Sea Gripen / Slovakia. Saab’s Lennart Sindahl tells a Swedish newspaper that the JAS-39E has become the base for a Sea Gripen design, following studies done in the UK.

They don’t intend to move forward without a confirmed customer, however, and the 3 countries they cite (India, Thailand, Brazil) amount to 1 valid prospect. India has already picked the MiG-29K and Tejas Naval LCA for its carriers, and Air Force dependencies on similar planes means that neither choice will change. Thailand has a carrier that’s arguably too small for a STOBAR fighter like Gripen, but it doesn’t matter – they lost the ability to operate fixed wing aircraft from it several years ago. It’s now a helicopter carrier that isn’t used very much, because they can’t afford it. That leaves Brazil, a Gripen customer working to co-develop the JAS-39F, who will need aircraft to replace the Skyhawks on NAe Sao Paolo in about a decade.

On a more optimistic note, he also says that Slovakia is getting closer to a deal for 6 JAS-39C Gripens, to give them interoperability with the Czech Republic and Hungary. Sources: SvD Naringsliv, “Saab tar kliv mot Gripen anpassad for hangarfartyg”.

July 10/14: Philippines. The Philippines recently bought 12 FA-50 light fighters, but Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin is reportedly interested in more advanced aircraft as well. Saab’s Gripen is reportedly on their radar screen, given the type’s low maintenance costs for a modern fighter. Sources: Saab’s Gripen Blog, “Gripen Has Admirers In Philippines Too”.

July 7/14: Weapons. MBDA announces that Saab and Sweden’s FMV have concluded missile integration firings with the JAS-39C/D Gripen and the Meteor BVRAAM (Beyond Visual-Range Air-to-Air Missile). The March 2014 launches completed the full integration program, which includes new MS20 operating software for the jet.

Full Meteor capability will be delivered as part of Swedish Flygvapnet MS20 upgrades. Once that upgrade is cleared for service, the JAS-39 Gripen will be the 1st platform able to use the long-range Meteor, whose continuous ramjet propulsion also widens its no-escape zone. Gripen’s Eurofighter and Rafale competitors won’t even begin to catch up until 2017, and there’s no scheduled integration date for other fighters. Sources: MBDA, “Gripen Closes In On Operational Meteor Capability”.

June 17/14: No Gripen for India. As negotiations to buy advanced Rafale fighters stall, and projected costs rise sharply, India’s Business Standard reveals that Saab had proposed to take a 51% share of a joint venture company, then leverage their expertise to help with HAL’s LCA Tejas Mk.2. It was an abandonment of Gripen in India, but for Saab, the JV would give them a major new niche in the global marketplace: a low-end fighter in a class below the Gripen and its Western competitors.

DRDO chief Dr V K Saraswat was enthusiastic, with an RFI in 2012 and an RFP in 2013. The idea does indeed make great sense in terms of India’s needs. The catch? Incoming DRDO chief Dr Avinash Chander was more focused on developing the Mk.2 alone, and believed that any foreign partnership would require a global tender. In India, that would take years. If MMRCA negotiations for the Rafale fail, on the other hand, and DRDO continues to fail at fielding even the Tejas Mk.1, the new BJP government may decide to take a second look at all of its options. Sources: India’s Business Standard, “Rafale contract elusive, Eurofighter and Saab remain hopeful”.

May 18/14: Switzerland. Unsurprisingly, a tepid and convictionless defense of the Gripen fighter deal results in a referendum loss, with projections showing about a 53.4% no vote. The only surprise is that the margin was this narrow, indicating a winnable vote. Compare and contrast with the September 2013 referendum, which resulted in the Swiss keeping conscription. Or the government’s success in the referendum that ratified their F/A-18 Hornet buy.

While some governments in Europe will re-run referendums until they get the result they like, the Swiss aren’t like that. The TTE fighter buy, and the unrelated referendum proposal to implement a SFR 22 (about $25)/ hour minimum wage, are both history. Switzerland will need to depend on French and Italian jets for basic airspace protection, and Sweden is very likely to end up buying Brazilian Super Tucano trainers instead of Swiss PC-21s. Sources: Swissinfo, “Swiss Reject $3.5 Billion Gripen Purchase in Blow to Saab” | Deutsche Welle, “Swiss referendum turns down minimum wage and new fighter jets” | Reuters, “Swiss voters narrowly block deal to buy Saab fighter jets: projection”.

Referendum kills Swiss buy

April 24/14: Weapons. Sweden has decided that they need KEPD 350 cruise missiles on their Gripens, but their politicians are doing a poor job explaining why. The semi-stealthy Taurus KEPD 350 cruise missile uses a combination of GPS navigation and Imaging Infrared final targeting, with a range of around 500 km/ 310+ miles. They’re integrated on Gripen, but Sweden has never bought any, even though Taurus is a consortium between Airbus, MBDA, and Saab Bofors Dynamics.

Now Defence Minister Karin Enstrom is pushing for a purchase, as part of the governing center-right coalition’s proposals to strengthen Sweden’s defenses post-Crimea (q.v. April 22/14). She touts their “wider reach and the ability to fight distant targets,” adding that “high-precision capacity can also have a deterring effect”. What she doesn’t explain is why that’s necessary, leading observers to conclude that it’s because Germany (KEPD 350) and Finland (AGM-158 JASSM) have been buying such weapons. Overall, it’s a terrible explanation to a country who sees its defense policy as defensive-only, especially after the government’s own foreign minister said in 2013 that cruise missiles would “never be relevant” for that very reason.

It also misses a critical military need, in the face of new advanced air defense missiles with ranges beyond 160 km. In order for Sweden’s Gripens to even fly over defended territory safely, Gripens need to be able to destroy enemy surface-to-air missile platforms that may threaten them, without entering their killing range. The KEPD 350 can perform this role, but the Gripen’s other integrated weapons cannot. If advance thought had been given, and Sweden’s military had outlined a “deep strike” doctrine aimed at the gathering places and logistics of any attacking force, advance consensus on an argument to establish that policy could also have served as a springboard for buying these missiles.

Firing a “bolt from the blue” works well if you’re shooting live KEPD 350s. If you’re a politician, however, it’s just poor preparation. Sources: The Local – Sweden, “Sweden wants cruise missiles ‘for defence'” | Radio Sweden, “Analyst: events sped up cruise missile decision”.

April 22/14: Finland. The Finns are looking ahead to eventual replacement of their upgraded F/A-18C/D Hornet fighters, which beat Saab’s early-model Gripens to become Finland’s first post-Russian fighters. The new discussion involves the JAS-39E/F and F-35A, and will probably involve other machines as well, depending on what’s still in production. But the politics are going to make your head spin. Helsinki Times:

“Carl Haglund (SFP), the Minister of Defence, has rejected the proposal by Eero Heinaluoma (SDP), the Speaker of the Parliament, to acquire JAS Gripen fighters from Sweden in a bid to promote Nordic co-operation…. “Although I advocate co-operation with Sweden, we should not acquire Swedish JAS fighters when we could acquire American F-35 stealth fighters for roughly the same price. Performance must take precedence in the investment,” emphasises Haglund…. “There may be fewer aircraft than at present, but the price tag will be a minimum of five billion euros. A special funding is required.”

Let’s leave aside that the F-35 won’t be roughly the same price, creating fleet size issues, and avoid the military arguments for each plane in light of Finland’s geography. SFP is the Svenska folkpartiet i Finland – Swedish People’s Party of Finland. You read that right. Finland has a Swedish cultural minority, which has often been part of the balance of power in Parliament, and Swedish is a recognized 2nd language that is taught in Finnish schools. As one might imagine, there are also some tensions under the surface. So, the prominent Social Democratic Party (SDP) is suggesting Gripens, but the influential Swedish party is saying no. On the other hand, how would it look if they just smiled and agreed to something this big? Sources: Helsinki Times, “Haglund advises against JAS fighter acquisition”.

April 22/14: 10 more in Sweden? Party representatives from all 4 parties in the current center-right governing coalition make a public statement, officially committing to more defense spending in light of Russia’s recent actions. The increase would be about $760 million per year (SEK 5 billion), and the main beneficiary will be the submarine fleet, which would add 3 newly-designed boats to the 2 in operation. The second beneficiary will be the JAS-39E fleet, which would grow to 70 planes. The 3rd new priority would be an improved air defense system.

In declining order of party seats, the spokespeople were Fredrik Reinfeldt (Moderate), Jan Björklund (Liberal People’s), Annie Loof (Centre) and Goran Hagglund (Christian Democrats). This is a minority government, which currently has a majority because of the Sweden Democrats, a right-wing populist party that’s described as ultra-nationalist, but includes an influential contingent of Chaldean Christians who immigrated from the Middle East. The party is outside the formal governing coalition, but very disinclined to vote with the left-wing opposition parties. Sources: Dagens Nyheter, “Sa vill regeringen starka forsvaret” | The Local – Sweden, “Sweden to beef up air force to counter Russia”.

April 18/14: Update. JAS-39E/F testing seems to be focused on components so far. A much-modified JAS-39D (aircraft #39-7) is the primary component test bed, with upgraded avionics including a digital HUD, a production-standard ES-05 Raven AESA radar, and the SkyGuard IRST. Saab is currently assembling aircraft #39-8, a more representative test prototype of the JAS-39E/F that’s due to fly in 2015. Aircraft #39-9 is due to join the test fleet in 2016 as a primary system testbed, while aircraft #39-10 is due to fly in 2017 in the final JAS-39E configuration with the production-standard weight. Sources: Selex ES, “Selex ES Advances Gripen Systems”.

April 16/14: EW. Finmeccanica subsidiary Selex ES says that tests involving a fighter and ground radars have cleared the way for production of their BriteCloud decoys, which contain DRFM active jammers and are are shot out of a dispenser instead of being towed behind the aircraft. That dispensing method creates larger miss distances for missiles that home in on the decoy, which is very helpful against proximity fuse warheads. It also eliminates added drag on the fighter. The flip side is that you don’t get the decoy back, but cylindri

Show more