Saab's Gripen Flies Out for Swiss Trials
By pierre tran
Published: 14 Jul 13:37 EDT (17:37 GMT)
FARNBOROUGH, England - A two-seater Gripen C/D strike fighter is due to begin on July 28 a month's flight evaluation in Switzerland, the first of three European combat aircraft to be tested as a replacement for the Swiss F-5 fleet, company executives said at the Farnborough Airshow.
Under the evaluation program, three weeks have been scheduled for flying trials, with an extra week as backup, said Manne Koerfer, Gripen's campaign director.
"We're first up," Koerfer said. After the Swedish fighter is flown by the Swiss authorities, it is expected to be followed by the Rafale from Dassault Aviation in September/October and the Eurofighter Typhoon in October/November.
Saab submitted its formal response to the Swiss tender on July 2. Part of the submission was a plan for deeper cooperation with Pilatus of Switzerland, in which the PC-21 turboprop aircraft featured as a lead-in trainer for the Gripen.
The package of the Pilatus trainer and Gripen fighter would be extended beyond Switzerland as a global offering, as countries increasingly look to buy a complete system rather than individual aircraft, Koerfer said.
The United Arab Emirates, for instance, wants to acquire a complete fighter pilot training package, not just a fast jet trainer.
Thailand bought an air defense system by acquiring six Gripens and two Saab 340 Erieye airborne early warning aircraft, said Åke Svensson, Saab president and CEO.
Boeing declined to pitch its F/A-18E/F in the Swiss competition.
"The Super Hornet was too capable for them," plane program manager Bob Gower said. "We didn't think we were going to get credit for the added capability we would bring to the fight."
The Swiss list of requirements did not include the high-end AESA radar that sets the Super Hornet apart from earlier models.
"The customer sets the requirements and it's our job to determine if our platform is right for the requirements," Gower added.
The Swiss requirement is for about 30 aircraft to perform air policing and reconnaissance missions, Koerfer said. Given the mission, Saab believes the single-engined Gripen offers the right level of technology and cost compared with the twin-engined competitors.
Svensson said there has been an unexpectedly high level of interest in the Gripen. "We've never seen this strong interest before," he said.
Saab is working on a demonstrator model to act as a bridge to a next-generation Gripen that could fly in 2015. The demonstrator aircraft has a more powerful GE F414G engine, delivering 20 percent more thrust and 40 percent greater range, and has 10 weapon pylons compared with eight on the C/D. Maximum takeoff weight rises 2 metric tons to 16 tons.
The new aircraft would have an AESA radar, satellite communications and video link. The technology developed for the new-generation Gripen could be retrofitted to the C/D models.
Saab hopes to sell the Gripen to the Netherlands if the Dutch authorities abandon involvement in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter because of disenchantment over local industrial participation. Saab offers 100 percent industrial offset on the Gripen, said Bob Kemp, senior vice president for Gripen international sales and marketing.
Saab claims the Gripen's purchase price is about 30 percent to 40 percent lower than the competition, and has an operational track record that allows detailed estimated life-cycle costs.
"Saab's business objective to sell at least 200 Gripen aircraft on the world market remains," Svensson said.
A senior French government official recently said that Paris expects to sell around 100 Rafales in the near future. Among potential clients, besides the Swiss Air force, are the United Arab Emirates; Libya, which is interested in buying 14 Rafales; and India, which is seeking 126 combat jets to replace its MiG-21s.
Gayle S. Putrich contributed to this report