On 18 May Sweden’s Saab expressed optimism about fighter exports to nations including India as it unveiled a new version of its Gripen combat jet being developed for Sweden and Brazil.
The revamped Gripen E is one of five aircraft which has attracted Finland’s interest as it weighs an order for dozens of jets, according to industry executives.
Boeing’s F-18, Dassault Aviation’s Rafale, Lockheed Martin’s F-35 and the Eurofighter Typhoon, involving BAE Systems, may also be considered.
Saab said it is also monitoring possible fighter purchases in India, which some say could seek almost 100 warplanes once it completes a delayed order for 36 French Rafales.
“I think we have a very good opportunity in India. We can make an attractive offer that would suit the Indians with their Make in India concept,” Saab aeronautics head Ulf Nilsson said in an interview.
Sweden appears willing to meet India’s demands for a sweeping transfer of technology, echoing a deal to sell 28 Gripen Es and 8 twin-seater Gripen Fs to Brazil.
“The solution we did there … could very well be suitable for India,” Nilsson told Reuters. He said Saab is talking to potential Indian partners, but declined to give details.
After years of indecision, some analysts believe India could seek both single-engine jets like the Gripen and Lockheed Martin F-16 and twin-engine aircraft like the Rafale or F-18.
That could give Gripen an edge against the older F-16, used by India’s arch-rival Pakistan, but diplomats warn the shape of any future contest is unclear and could take time.
Saab unveiled the jet at its fighter plant to an audience of several hundred suppliers, media and customers on Wednesday.
“The Gripen E ensures that Gripen as a brand keeps going against the Rafale, Typhoon and F-35,” said Francis Tusa, editor of Defence Analysis.
Selling for about $85 million excluding arms, the Gripen E is slightly cheaper than Rafale or Typhoon and significantly cheaper than the single-engined F-35, which is marketed for stealth, he added.
Critics say the Gripen lacks the flexibility of twin-engined rivals or the same geopolitical support as U.S., French or pan-European alternatives.
The first aircraft will fly around end-year.
Saab said it would continue to invest in the older and cheaper Gripen C/D model to attract a different tier of buyers.
It aims to complete a deal to supply 8 jets to Slovakia soon and has its sights on others including Croatia and Bulgaria.
Compared to previous versions of the Gripen, the Gripen E has a significantly improved avionics system. The capability to carry more weapons and the improved range performance, is possible by a more powerful engine and the ability to carry more fuel.
Gripen E is equipped with a highly integrated sensor suite including an Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, Infra-Red Search and Track (IRST), Electronic Warfare (EW) suite, and datalink technology.
Five nations currently operate Gripen: Sweden, South Africa, Czech Republic, Hungary and Thailand. Brazil has ordered Gripen, and Gripen has also been down-selected in Slovakia. Besides that, Empire Test Pilots’ School (ETPS) uses Gripen as platform for test pilot training.
The first Gripen E is expected to make its maiden flight towards the end of this year. The aircraft is the first of three test airframes, the remaining two of which are currently also in production. One trials aircraft will also be produced for Brazil and will undertake around 12 months of testing in Sweden before being transferred to programme partner Embraer for trials from its flight test facility at Gavião Peixoto.
A contract for 60 Gripen Es for the Swedish Air Force was confirmed by Saab on December 18, 2013, with first delivery anticipated in 2019. Initial operational capability is then expected in 2021, followed by full capability in 2023, reports Air Forcees Daily. In addition, an agreement was concluded on October 24, 2014, for delivery to the Brazilian Air Force of 36 Gripen E/Fs, comprising 28 single-seat Gripen Es and eight twin-seat Gripen Fs.