16 June 2012

Gripen Plans Progress

It looks like the Swiss and the Swedes have got their program together:
Provided nationally endorsed plans in Sweden and Switzerland survive political or economic upsets, the JAS 39E/F, the product of the Gripen Demo and Next Generation programs, will be delivered to customers in 2018. This will mean that Saab and its supplier team will have created what is in most respects an entirely new aircraft, compared to the original JAS 39A/B, since development of the in-service C/D started in June 1997.

This has been done so far under fixed-price contracts for development, new production and retrofits, according to a presentation by FMV, the Swedish defense procurement organization. After the delivery of the last Gripen C/D, Saab returned an unspecified sum of money to the Swedish government because costs were lower than predicted.

More details of the JAS 39E/F emerged at an aerospace conference hosted by the Swedish air force and Saab earlier this month at Malmen air base, and attended by current and prospective Gripen operators.

The schedule is set by two interlocking commitments. The Swedish government has decided to replace the C/D with the E/F and has committed to developing the aircraft in time to support Switzerland's requirements. The Swiss government has selected the E/F as the sole affordable replacement for the F-5E/F, and subject to a referendum and negotiations will sign a contract in 2014, triggering a full-scale go-ahead by Sweden .

Some development work will continue to lay the foundation for the four-year program. As long as the political process stays on track, the first of two built-from-the-ground-up E/F development aircraft, identified as 39-8, will fly in late 2013. The Gripen Demo has been equipped with a prototype of the Selex Raven ES-05 active, electronically scanned array radar and will be used to test the E/F's revised avionics system and weapons.

The E/F airframe will be largely new, although it should be possible to use some major components from existing C/D airframes, including the wings. Mid and aft fuselage sections will be new, to accommodate the General Electric F414 engine (and its larger airflow) and the new landing gear. The blended wing-body sections will be larger, placing the wing attachment points an estimated 30 in. farther apart. The goal is to maintain the same wing loading for the E/F's 2.5-ton increase in gross weight. The body will be slightly longer, maintaining or improving fineness ratio. Sources suggest the design will incorporate F-35-style diverterless supersonic inlets.
So, it looks like the New Gripen is going to be basically a new aircraft.

One of the interesting points is that they intend a large amount of systems commonality between the E/F and the C/D, particularly in terms of upgrades, which can serve to address concerns about the costs of upgrades, which Norway used as an alibi to select the F-35. 

It should that this did problem did occur with Italy, when they were the sole customer for the Sparrow capable F-104S, and were stuck with shouldering upgrades on their own.

Seeing as how the Gripen is about half the direct operating cost of the Typhoon and Rafale, and probably less than 1/3 that of the F-35, I think that it continues to occupy a niche at the low end of the market.


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