Saab has rolled out its first Gripen NG, which structurally is pretty much a new plane.
As compared to the travails of the F-22, where upgrades and modernization have been expensive and difficult, and the F-35, which is late, expensive, under performing, and unreliable.
By comparison, all the major systems for the new Gripen have flown, the first aircraft is a production unit, and it is expected to start flight testing this year:
Saab is targeting the on-schedule delivery of its new Gripen E fighter to the Swedish and Brazilian air forces late this decade, as it steps up export campaigns involving both the advanced model and its earlier C/D-model jet.
The first of three Swedish test aircraft to be involved in the project was unveiled at the manufacturer’s Linköping facility on 18 May, in front of an international audience of current and prospective Gripen users.
Lead aircraft 39-8 will be handed over to Saab’s flight test department “this summer”, and should make its flight debut at the end of the year, the company says. It will be used initially to verify the general systems, airframe and aerodynamics of the evolved design, which – while visually resembling earlier iterations – is entirely new.
Powered by a GE Aviation F414 turbofan engine capable of generating 22,000lb (98kN) of thrust, the Gripen E has an empty weight of 8,000kg (17,600lb) and a maximum take-off weight of 16.5t. The latter represents a 2.5t increase over the C/D. At 15.2m (49.8ft), it is also 30cm longer than its predecessor, while its wingspan has increased by 20cm, to 8.6m. With 40% more internal fuel, the new model has increased range, payload and endurance, and features an active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, other updated avionics and new electronic warfare equipment.
Saab chief executive Håkan Buskhe reveals the cost of developing the Gripen E and producing its three Swedish test aircraft will be less than $2 billion.
This is chump change by the standards of modern fighter development.
Stressing that aircraft 39-8 is not a prototype, Ydreskog says: “Assembly of the first test aircraft – with 60,000, mostly new parts – was shorter than number 204 for the C/D.” The programme’s other test units are in different stages of structural assembly and only minor adjustments are expected as the shift to series production occurs. “There is some optimisation to do – we can reduce some weight,” he notes.
But Saab believes one of the biggest advances with the Gripen E comes through its use of an all-new integrated modular avionics system, which splits flight-critical and tactical management software. It says the latter’s software, hardware and algorithms can be rapidly changed – like apps on a smartphone – to keep pace with evolved operational requirements or technological advances in computing over the life of the type’s use.
The updated software has been in development for far less time than the (still not up to snuff) avionics package for the F-35 JSF, and it will be trivial for countries using the aircraft.
The reason is that critical functions are segregated from one another, which, as any programmer can tell you, simply works better than tightly integrated all in one software as used in the JSF, even after billions of dollars have been spent.
Of course, for Lockheed Martin, their hairball of a software platform is not a bug, it’s a feature, because it allows charge tolls on users who want to make upgrades.
As Aviation Week notes:
Gripen E is scaled up from the early Gripen C/D with 40% additional fuel capacity, more thrust from its General Electric F414 engine and more weapon stations. Internally the aircraft has been given a new sensor suite, with active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar and infrared search and track (IRST).
Key to the aircraft is a federated software system that separates critical flight control systems from the tactical systems. Saab claims this will make the Gripen E’s avionics and mission systems more easily and quickly upgradable. Just 10% of the aircraft’s system code will be devoted to flight-critical systems; the remaining 90% will be mission-system related. Saab officials say tactical upgrades could be tested and introduced in weeks rather than months.
The direct operating cost, as well as the fly away cost, of the Gripen looks to be less than that of its competitors.
Compared to its competitors, the Eurofighter Typhoon, the Dassault Rafale, and the Lockheed-Martin Lightning II, this aircraft should better suit the needs of most countries out there, but Sweden lacks the connections behind the other platforms, so it looks likely that while it will be a market success, it will be a only a modest success.