onsdag 18 maj 2016

My interview with Saab on the new Gripen

It's May 18 and Saab is well into writing a new chapter as fighter manufacturer with the roll-out of the first new aircraft in the Gripen next generation programme

The new test aircraft 39-8 revealed today will soon be followed by two more aircraft. First by "39-9" for development and verification of the tactical systems and then "39-10" for final verification of the airframe and systems. One earlier proof-of-concept airframe (39-7) has flown since 2008. Saab also employs a static test rig (39-083).

Saab has adopted the term "evolution" to describe generational leaps taken by the Gripen system.
In short the new E-version can take on more loads, fly longer, and act smarter. In terms of load and range Gripen E now comes closer to more heavier competitors but still retains a relatively low price. For example a capacity to carry up to seven Beyond Visual Range missiles while Gripen C supports four of them.

Though visually quite similar to current Gripen aircraft the E-version is designed for operations in a 2025- environment. As summed up by the Swedish Air Chief "the stated purpose of Gripen E is for us to have a functioning and strong air defence after 2025 - and until at least 2045".
The following is my interview with Saab. Answers were a team effort of the Gripen organisation. Note: I'm not a journalist and my English is not the best. I'm just a guy who enjoy airplanes.

Gripen E 39-8 Photo: Saab AB

Intro: Congratulations on the Gripen evolution event. Six years ago one of your competitors briefed journalists on how they predicted the fighter market 2020+. They assumed Gripen would be gone. 

Since then Saab has secured contracts for 96 newly developed Gripen aircraft from two countries taking Saabs production backlog to one of the highest among western fighters and a span only second to that of the F-35. With some of the competition fading away and other western alternatives being both heavier and more costly, opportunities for Gripen seem better than ever.

Q: Is Saab observing a whole new perception of Gripen with this change in market position?

A: The Gripen E order from Sweden, together with Brazil’s order of Gripen NG, solidifies and expands Saabs opportunities on the world market. In fact, these recent events has fundamentally changed the dynamics of the global fighter market in favour of Gripen. This means that Saab are no longer a margin player and we see an increasing interest in all regions from the Americas to Asia.

Here its crucial to add that Gripen C/D and Gripen E will live in parallel for many years to come. Gripen C/D is the backbone of several air forces today and will continue to be so coming years with new upgrades. Therefor we foresee several new C/D customers as well. Our target is to sell more than 400-450 Gripen’s over the coming 20 years, and with the new system, the only one of its kind, we firmly believe we will reach that. One of our strategic goals is to present Gripen as the preferred “smart” choice when replacing aging fighter fleets.

Q: Saab is talking about Gripen as being the "smart fighter" - which we can hear more about in one of your videos.  How is this 'smart' concept being received in a market so dominated by U.S rhetoric centered around '5th gen' and 'stealth'?

A: Gripen is a highly versatile multirole platform and one of its missions is interdiction in a highly contested airspace. However, Gripen is more focused on using a smart approach in packs, advanced EW systems and the deployment of standoff weapons instead of being reliant on stealth, as some as its competitors,  when it comes to  taking out advanced enemy air defences. 

It is also smart in being able to add on new technologies when arising quickly and very cost efficient, keeping the system continuously up to date meeting arising threat and capability demand.

Q: What kind of technology and tactics will actually enable Gripen fighters to handle new threats such as the latest Russian fighters with large nose radars and reduced radar signatures? 

A: What kind of tactics that can be used against a potential threat Saab will never discuss of obvious reasons, it’s our customers most precious secret. What Saab does, however, is to offer and deliver products and solutions that meet the needs and demands from these customers. When it comes to Gripen its an aircraft built to fly, fight and survive in the most hostile threat environments. It’s a genuine multi-role swing-role fighter equipped with sophisticated datalinks, radar and other sensors, plus an electronic warfare suite that are the best in the world.

Q: Recently Finland issued a RFI (Request For Information) and with that Saab released a new promotional video. Although still early in that process could you talk a little bit about how Saab will approach and support this tender? 

A: We believe we have a very attractive offer meeting the needs of a Nordic air force like the Finnish. Gripen is easily deployed with a small logistic footprint, optimized for short turn-around time and dispersed air bases concept. It is a mature and proven product, in operational service with several air forces. It is designed for continuous upgrades in order to keep the system up to date and equipped with latest technology throughout the life-cycle. 

With that, Saab see a very interesting opportunity for Gripen when Finland will replace its F/A-18 Hornets. We look forward to the upcoming process and will do our utmost to show how Gripen can meet Finland's operational needs. We feel confident that we have a strong offer that we will present for the RFI (Request for Information) that was received recently.

Q: In theory, money saved on a less expensive fighter could increase overall military capability by investing savings into other units such as on new radars better able to detect stealthy objects. But we have also seen examples of governments for strategic, technical or offset reasons to simply reduce fighter numbers in order to fit more costly machines within a budget. With more militaries feeling the squeeze of tighter budgets will governments give more attention to the whole picture or how is Saab otherwise trying to utilize this "economy role" of Gripen?

A: At a time when the acquisition and operating costs for competing aircraft are rising relentlessly, Gripen makes modern air forces viable - because tails matter, an air force is worthless if it cannot generate and sustain sufficient assets to be effective. Gripen’s cost-effectiveness allows an air force to acquire and operate a significant number of aircraft; meaning that the air force stays relevant and effective, and the nation has a defence that is credible. 

With Gripen, costs are clear at the outset, and predictable throughout the lifecycle. Gripen typically comes as a full package of aircraft, equipment, training and support. This smooths the entry-into-service process but also avoids the surprise costs that frequently trip up other aircraft acquisitions. Gripen is unique in offering a range of flexible procurement options – and it adapts to work with your existing military technology and communications systems, saving yet more money to spend on other priorities. Gripen is versatile, reliable and cost-effective: protecting citizens, the defence budget and the wider finances of the entire nation.

Q: Now that a two-seater Gripen NG is under development with Brazil has more countries expressed interest in this type? Do you see the two-seater as also offering new tactical benefits other than just being a training vehicle?

A:  A two seater version of Gripen NG is in development for delivery to the Brazilian customer and in the future also for other customers. The development is performed together with the Brazilian partner industries, Embraer, AEL, Akaer and Atech and is progressing according to plan.

The future air operations have requirements of enhanced capabilities to meet the future threats, one area is electronic warfare. In addition, the two-seater has the following mission capabilities: The aircraft’s enhanced avionics, wide area display, sensor systems and communication suite data-link together enable a wide range of tactical roles to be performed from the rear-seat. These may include weapons system officer, dedicated electronic warfare operator and mission commander. Upon customer request this could be further developed.

Brazil's F-39 Gripen cockpit

I would like to thank Saab for this interview and especially communications manager Sofia Thulin,  For verification of these answers contact Saabs Twitter social media unit.

/ Signatory GripenNews

Source video: FAB 
Further reading:  
Daily Beast: The Planet’s Best Stealth Fighter Isn’t Made in America
The National Interest: The JAS-39 Gripen: Sweden's Cheap (and Deadly) Fighter Plane
Gizmag : Saab rolls out latest-generation Gripen E fighter