Some parts for the Swedish Air Force’s next fighter, the Saab Gripen E, will be manufactured in South Africa. The Gripen E is a significant redevelopment of the existing Gripen fighter family. “We will be making parts for the Swedish Air Force Gripen Es in South Africa,” reveals Saab South Africa president and CEO Magnus Lewis-Olsson. “I can’t say what parts yet. It’s good news for South Africa. It’ll protect jobs for a long time to come.”
Currently, Sweden’s official requirement is for 60 Gripen Es. However, the Ukraine crisis has resulted in a government decision to increase defence spending (and the opposition has called for a larger increase). Consequently, the Swedish Defence Minister has stated that she would like the order increased to 70 aircraft, and a final total of 80 is possible.
“The Gripen E is more developed from the current Gripen C/D than we originally expected,” says Lewis-Olsson. “There is extensive redevel-opment of the airframe and systems.”
The original versions of the Gripen were the Gripen A single-seater and the Gripen B two-seater. These were followed by the Gripen C single-seater and the -D two-seater. The Gripen As and Bs are no longer in front-line service, while Gripen Cs and Ds are operated by Sweden, the Czech Republic, Hungary, South Africa and Thailand. From the beginning, the Gripen was designed, intended and operates as a multirole aircraft: air-to-air, air-to-ground, anti-ship and reconnaissance. The Gripen E retains this multirole capability.
Although the Gripen E, a configuration of the Gripen NG (for New Generation), looks similar to the previous Gripen A/B and C/D models and although it will use some of the same components and systems (such as part of the fuel and air supply systems, the election seat, outer wing elevons, windshield and canopy), in many ways it is a totally new aircraft. It will be slightly larger than the previous versions, with a different airframe structure and a redesigned tail section. It will have more weapons stations, new radar, improved communications systems, a new avionics architecture, new electronic warfare systems, new external sensors and a more powerful engine. It will also have a greater fuel capacity and a longer range.
A Gripen D was modified to act as a demon-strator for the New Generation aircraft, testing various systems that will be incorporated into the Gripen E. Three Gripen E test aircraft are now being assembled (one for static test and two for flight test). The maiden flight of the first flight test aircraft is forecast for the second half of next year. A second flight test aircraft will follow it into the air during the first half of 2016, with a third following suit in early 2017. The recent decision by Swiss voters, in a referendum, not to permit the purchase of 22 Gripens, has not undermined the programme, thanks to the announced increases in the Swedish defence budget.
Also, Brazil has selected the Gripen E as its preferred new generation fighter. Detailed negotiations between Saab and the Brazilian government are now under way and the signing of the definitive contract is expected by the end of this year. The initial Brazilian requirement is for 36 aircraft, including two-seat Gripen Fs. (Sweden currently has no requirement for the Gripen F, which, as a result, might be developed in Brazil.) The Brazilian Gripen Es and Fs will be assembled in that country and will include an increasing proportion of Brazilian-made components. Con-sequently, it is currently impossible to say if any South African-made parts could be used in the manufacture of the Brazilian aircraft. Should the initial 36-aircraft programme go well, Brazil could acquire up to another 64 Gripen E/Fs to take the total to 100.