Multi/swing-role fighter & two-seat conversion trainer.
Country of origin:
December 9, 1988 for first Swedish variant; November 11, 2005 for the first SAAF JAS39D.
Delivered to the SAAF:
First four delivered September 17, 2008.
Associated project name(s):
28 ordered, then reduced to 26; 19 single-seat fighters, seven fighter-trainers. Four delivered to SAAF by September 2008.
1 pilot (C-model), pilot, navigator (D-model).
Major dimensions & weights
· Wing area:
· Wheel track:
· Wheel base:
· Basic empty weight:
· Operational empty weight:
· Max stores weight:
· Max take-off weight, clean:
· Max take-off weight, with stores:
· Max internal fuel:
· Max external fuel:
· 14.1m (C), 14.8m (D).
· 5.2m (C), 5.9m (D).
· 7.4mt (C), 7.7mt (D).
· 3300 litres in three 1100 litre tanks (one under each wing and centreline.
· Take-off to clear 15m:
· Landing from 15m:
· Rate of climb:
· Service ceiling:
· Max operating speed:
· Max low-level speed:
· Max cruise speed:
· Max range at cruise speed:
· Combat range:
· Ferry range:
· Stall speed:
· Wing loading:
· Thrust/weight ratio:
· 400m in fighter configuration.
· Requires 500m strip.
· Two minutes to 10,060m (33,000ft), three minutes to 14,000m (46,000ft).
· 15,000m (50,000ft).
· Mach 1.9 approx.
· Mach 1.15.
· From Mach 0.5 to Mach 1.1: 30 seconds.
· 800km (500 miles) at max load.
· 3000km (with external tanks).
· +9, -3.
· 54kN dry, 80kN with afterburner.
· Compression ratio:
· Engine diameter:
· Engine length:
· Dry weight:
· Bypass ratio:
· Power turbine rotor speed:
· Shaft horsepower:
· Make: Volvo (General Electric).
· Model: RM12 (a modified F404J).
· Type: Turbofan (Twin-spool augmented low bypass-ratio) .
· Number: 1.
· Compression ratio: 27.5:1.
· Engine diameter: 0.884m (27.9in) maximum.
· Engine length: 4.04m (159in).
· Dry weight: 1.055mt (2325lbs).
· Bypass ratio: 0.31:1
· Power turbine rotor speed: nn.
· Shaft horsepower: nn.
Eight (Centreline, one on starboard wing root, two per wing, one on each wingtip).
· 120kg HE and 250kg HE ballistic, laser- or global positioning system guided bombs.
· MBDA IRIS-T short-range air-to-air missile as interim missile until the production and service acceptance of the Denel Dynamics A-Darter. SAAF still to select a beyond visual range air-to-air missile. (Denel Dynamics is proposing the T-Darter).
· FZ70 70mm unguided.
· 1 x Mauser BK27 27mm cannon.
· Reconnaissance pod:
· Laser designator:
· External fuel tanks:
· Thales Vicon 70.
· Rafael Litening
· Three, one under each wing, one on the centreline.
Some factoids – Each Gripen contains 30km of wire, about 60,000 parts, 84,000 rivets and 16,000 other fasteners, 40 computers and 450 boxes, valves, etc.
Major South African components included are the audio management system and part of the airframe.
Swedish components include the remainder of the airframe (with the British), the radar, radome, electronic display system and servos.
British parts include the control stick and throttle lever, the escape system (ejection seat), environmental control system, hydraulic system, the telescopic air-to-air refuelling probe, landing gear, wheel brakes and brake control system.
The Germans manufacture the cannon and the Americans the air data computer, part of the secondary power system (with the British) and part of the flight control system (with the Swedes. Although Volvo makes the engine, it is to a US design. The fuel system is French.
The turbofan RM12 is equipped with a full authority digital engine control system that optimises the engine cycle and controls the engine condition monitoring system as well as its built-in test system. The control system also includes a number safety functions and a separate hydro-mechanical back-up fuel system to provide high-level single-engine safety. 60% of the engine is built in the US and shipped to Sweden as components. The RM12 differs from the F404J fitted to the F18 in having a Swedish afterburner and a larger fan – generating a larger air inflow and greater power. It is also more resistant to bird strikes.
The radar is the Ericsson Microwave Systems PS-05A.
Some critics have slated the Gripen for a perceived lack of range. Design parameters called for excellent performance and high agility – not long range (the Swedish Flygvapnet has a defensive posture and up to recently did not practice power projection or out-of-area deployments. But a comparison with other single-engine fighters does not particularly embarrass the Gripen. The Dassault Mirage F1 and III could reach 700km. The Lockheed Martin F16C can reach 925km, the Dassault Mirage 2000, with a 1mt load can apparently fly 1480km and the Dassault Rafale will reach 1093km with 12 250kg bombs and four MBDA Mica air-to-air missiles.
The design also had to be simpler and cheaper to maintain than the Saab 37 Viggen and easy to turn around to ensure a high combat sortie rate – a factor important to South Africa due to the small size of its fleet. LTG Roelf Beukes, now retired, indicated during his tenure as Chief of the Air Force that the “Gripen`s adaptability and active service capability are of great importance to the SAAF. It can operate from military bases or standard roads, serviced by a handful of technicians and auxiliary personnel.” The Swedes use a scale of one specialist and five minimally trained conscripts per aircraft. This team can refuel and rearm a Gripen in 10 minutes.
Saab has always been cagey about the cost of the aircraft, saying the “exact price will depend on the details of the requirement, and in any case is commercially sensitive information. Our price is extremely competitive…” The SA Treasury in 2007 and 2008 priced the fleet at about R20bn, or R769 million each.
A fact sheet on the aircraft`s economy put the development and manufacture cost of the first 200 Gripens at 100 billion Swedish crowns over 25 years, or SEK4 billion a year – or SEK50 million per aircraft.
Saab says the Swedish National Audit Office, in a 1996 report, found the cost “no more significant or exceptional” compared to any other project of the same size.
On the issue of economy, the company says the modern design of the fighter gives lower maintenance and upgrade costs. Its low weight and efficient engine has decreased fuel costs by 50% in comparison to the Viggen.
“One reason for these low operational costs is the number of easily replaced modules equipped with built-in sensors, installed on the aircraft, that continuously monitor and indicate when it is time to replace a component. In this way, no component is replaced unnecessarily, which contributes to keeping costs down. Maintenance costs are already 40% lower than those of the (1970-era) Viggen-system.”
The aircraft`s credentials as a light-eight fighter is emphasised by it weighing just 78% of a F16 (empty) and half of a Viggen, Rafale or Boeing F/A18E/F Super Hornet.
In common with the US Boeing F22 Raptor and the Lockheed Martin F35 Joint Strike Fighter, the Gripen was designed to be inherently aerodynamically unstable – a factor that boosts agility and performance. To compensate, the aircraft is fitted with a triple redundant fly-by-wire system with analogue back-up. Its large canards improve short-field performance and two small strakes on the nose generate vortices useful to improved flight control at high angles of attack. On landing the canards can almost be tilted 90 degrees to act as landing breaks. The composite materials and small size of the aircraft greatly reduces its radar signature, giving it a fair degree of stealth.
The cockpit is fitted for hands-on-throttle-and-stick flying and features a wide angle head-up display and three full colour LCD screens, served by a sophisticated internal databus system (five MILSTD 1553B data busses) and external datalink. The link, the Tactical Information Datalink System provides the fighter four high-bandwidth two-way datalinks with a range of about 500km and a high resistance to jamming. The link works equally well on the ground as in the air, meaning a pilot on standby can attain a high degree of “situational awareness” before take off. It also allows a Gripen to receive or transmit targeting data to another, to an airborne or ground-based command centre or to other aircraft types fitted with the TILDS. The system also allows aircraft to use their radars to triangulate a target track, or one aircraft to jam a target while others track, engage or sneak up on it. They can also pool their radars to “burn” through enemy jamming… In reconnaissance mode, Gripens can transmit gathered data real-time for interpretation and use.
Much as is the case with the A400M, government has perhaps been less concerned over the choice of aircraft than the economic value of the choice.
Speaking at the roll-out ceremony in Linköping, Sweden, in October 2005, Minister for Public Enterprises Alec Erwin again highlighted the programme`s role as a catalyst for broad industrial, trade and economic development in South Africa. Underlining this sentiment, Saab CEO, Åke Svensson, described the significance of the Gripen programme in establishing South Africa as Saab`s second home-market.
Underpinning its commitment to South Africa, Saab has invested in several businesses, including its major investment in Grintek, the South African advanced technology group. “Saab is now a proudly South African company employing around 1300 of the best technical and marketing brains within Saab Grintek, in which we own a 70% stake” he explained at the time.
A brief note on the Gripen`s “fourth generation fighter aircraft” and multi/swing role status: A Saab Q&A fact sheet describes a fourth generation fighter aircraft as an airplane with supersonic performance “that has a digitally designed infrastructure with a fully integrated, computerised system, which utilises a common database with standardised interface. This means that sensors, weapons, control surfaces, displays and so forth, can be used to supply and store data; theoretically, in almost infinite combinations. Using all this, the desired system functions can be created. It is only us humans, and physical laws that are the limitation. Gripen is not only a multi-role aircraft, but also a swing-role aircraft, which means that the Gripen can change roles in flight.”
After its November 11, 2005 maiden flight, the SAAF`s first Gripen, SA01, flew another 25 hours in the skies around Linköping, Sweden, before being shipped to South Africa where it arrived by sea on July 16, 2006 for a 14-month test programme at the TFDC near Bredasdorp. The programme was completed at the Gripen Flight Test Centre South Africa (GFTC SA) at the TFDC in January 2008. SA01 is a fully instrumented test aircraft and will remain at the TFDC for most of its career. SA02 to SA26 are allocated to 2 Squadron at AFB Makhado.
The Gripen bested the Dassault Mirage 2000/5, the Moscow Aircraft Production Organisation MiG29 and the theoretical DaimlerChrysler Aerospace AT2000 Mako in the race to be the SAAF ALFA.
It emerged in July 2005 that the US had offered South Africa a number of “previously owned” F16`s in the early1990s. The aircraft on offer was a number of F16A and B`s ordered and paid for by Pakistan but embargoed subsequently by the Clinton administration.
Defence minister Mosiuoa Lekota said in July 2005 that the deal was not possible at the time because of the US embargo against Armscor and other South African concerns resulting from sanctions busting in the 1980s. Lekota in a written answer to a question posed in the National Assembly by the Freedom Front Plus claimed the aircraft would require upgrades put at US300 million “before they could be put to effective use.”
 JAS: Jakt, Attack & Spaning. Swedish for fighter, attack and reconnaissance, the type`s main functions.
 Griffin in English: a legendary creature with the head of an eagle and the body of a lion.
 According to Beeld newspaper, July 22, 2006.
 2007 Treasury figure.
 2008 Treasury figure.