Saab pushes for its Gripen – E Fighter

The Indian Air Force (IAF) in an effort to address the fast depleting squadron numbers of its fighters in July, 2018 floated a RFI for acquiring at least 110 Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) from a global manufacturer. The Tender which is being procured under the ‘Buy and Make’ category of DPP-2016 is largely seen as the revival of the prior MMRCA tender.

One of the contenders for the multi-billion dollar tender is Sweden’s Saab which has offered the Air Force its Gripen – E fighter platform. Saab has been actively offering its Gripen platform since the late 90s to the Air Force.

Being one of the strongest contender for the tender, Saab is expected to have a significant advantage when the technical evaluation begins.

Life of Soldiers in the run up to Aero India – 2019 engages Ola Rignel, Chairman and Managing Director of Saab India.

An extract of the Interview is reproduced below –

LOS – The Indian campaign for SAAB has been a long one from the Pre-MMRCA offers to the current IAF’s hunt for 110 multi-role aircraft. SAAB with Gripen has been for the fray since 2 decades. Can you briefly outlay the campaign?

CMD – Saab AB has responded to the Indian Air Force’s Request for Information with Gripen E which is the latest and most advanced multi-role fighter aircraft, designed to maximise operational effect in future battlespaces. It is a true multi-role fighter, equipped with the latest weapons, highly fused sensor suite, and designed for continuous upgrades. If IAF acquires Gripen E, IAF will be able to achieve a high degree of fleet availability and mission success within the full spectrum of air combat operations, enabled through the latest technologies and weapons, including the game-changing Meteor.

LOS –       The Air Force, only in the last year, began its search for at least 110 multi role aircraft under a global RFI. We learn that SAAB was one of the responders of RFI. What has the progress been with the RFI since it has reached you?

CMD – Gripen E is by far the most advanced fighter aircraft in the world, with not just the latest radar, sensors and electronic warfare systems on board, but also the unique ability to highly customize the aircraft and integrate existing and new missile systems.  Gripen can perform a wide range of missions such as Offensive Counter Air, Defensive Counter Air, Air Policing, Cruise Missile Defence, Close Air Support, Air Interdiction, Suppression/Destruction of Enemy Air Defence (SEAD/DEAD), Maritime Strike, Strategic Attack, Sea Surveillance, Tactical Air Reconnaissance and Non-Traditional ISR. These missions can be performed around the clock in all types of weather.

LoS – SAAB, for meeting the requirements of IAF, has yet again put forward its Gripen-E platform. Could you briefly sum up the capabilities of this platform in the Indian operational context?

CMD – Gripen will give the Indian Air Force the flexibility to tailor its response to changing levels of threat, across the full range of defensive and offensive scenarios. Gripen will give India the freedom and power to act as required, to safeguard its interests.  Gripen does not tie its operators into fixed alliances or agendas, or a specific country or supplier of weapon systems – it will not require the Air Force to cede control of key systems and technology to other governments or agencies.

LoS –  What has been the progress with Gripen-E programme? How has it evolved since its maiden flight?

CMD – The second Gripen E test aircraft, designated 39-9 has also made its maiden flight on 26 November 2018.  Gripen E has successfully fired the IRIS-T air-to-air missile and completed the first tests to verify the ability to release external payloads by jettisoning one external fuel drop tank. The aircraft has also completed the first flight armed with the MBDA Meteor beyond visual range air-to-air missile (BVRAAM).

LoS- Could you share us some insights on the time frame in regard to the Gripen-E programme? When can we tentatively see the first aircraft entering the service?

CMD – Saab remains on track to deliver the first series production units of its Gripen E by the end of the current year.

LoS – SAAB, has time and again said that Gripen has undergone rigorous up gradation cycles from the initial Gripen-A/Bs to the current Gripen-E. What has evolved in the aircraft? Could you outline these changes in regards to capability enhancements?

Gripen E/F is part of the Gripen E-series and a new fighter aircraft system. Developed to counter and defeat advanced future threats, the E-series is for customers with more pronounced threats or wider territories to secure. The E-series has a new and more powerful engine, improved range performance and the ability to carry greater payloads. It also has a new AESA-radar, InfraRed Search and Track system, highly advanced electronic warfare and communication systems together with superior situational awareness. The E-series redefines air power for the 21st century by extending operational capabilities.

Saab, Gripen-E, Smart Fighter
Gripen E on Saab’s production line.

LoS – Gripen-E features a new F-414 Power plant and also a Selex developed AESA radar system. How has this radar system been performing?

CMD – Compared to a conventional mechanically scanned antenna, an AESA offers greatly increased beam agility allowing AESA radars to function faster and respond more rapidly. AESA radars can accurately track many targets while still maintaining watch for new targets at long range. They provide better discrimination of multiple targets and are less likely to be defeated by target manoeuvres. AESA radars are also more effective against small, low radar cross-section targets, which typically pose a challenge to previous generation radars. With the swashplate solution the Gripen NG AESA radar has the ability to cover a scan angle up to ±100°. This will increase situation awareness and be used to increase the quality of SAR images. In BVR combat, wide angle scan also allows the aircraft to maintain track on the target whilst executing a 90° maneuver. This minimizes closure rate with the target, places one’s own aircraft in the enemy’s clutter return and still allows full guidance of BVR missiles. The radar system has been performing up to the requirements.

LoS – SAAB recently conducted carriage trials for the meteor air-to-air missiles. Gripen is one of the first platforms to receive this system. How has the programme been evolving?

CMD – Gripen was the first fighter to be declared operational with the Meteor missile and this capability had been established in service with Sweden’s Gripen Cs since 2016. Gripen also made a significant contribution to the Meteor development programme over many years, so Saab has a unique level of experience and capability with the Meteor system. 

In October, Saab successfully completed a test flight by a Gripen E aircraft with the Meteor Beyond Visual Range Air-to-Air Missile (BVRAAM) for the first time.  The flight included two Meteor missiles and the Gripen E aircraft (designated 39-8) was operated from Saab’s airfield at Linköping, Sweden. The aircraft continues to perform as smoothly as we have seen throughout the whole flight test phase flying with external stores. This test with Meteor is a part of the weapon integration progress in the Gripen E test programme and marks an important milestone in the agreement with the Swedish customer. The next step is to continue to fly with different configurations and gradually expand the flight envelope.

LoS – Gripen features considerable sourced technologies, which undoubtedly is a common industry practice across the globe. But, the origin of critical equipment from multiple OEMs and countries, which have strict export control laws has been a concern in regards to acquiring Gripen. Your representatives have, on various stages, claimed that securing waivers for these control laws is quite easy. However, US has recently forfeited Israel’s offer to Croatia citing US origin technologies on the platform that was on offer to Croatia. With SAAB now offering Gripen E for the Air Force, has there been any progress towards attaining these waivers?

CMD – We have all licenses in place to offer Gripen to India including a US license. Sweden and US have a long standing and good relations in all aspects.

Line of top notch aero-products designed by Saab. Source – Saab.com

LoS -As expected, Make in India is a major feature in the new RFI for 110 fighters required by the Indian Air Force. Close to 85% of the aircraft are mandated to be manufactured here, locally in India. What is SAABs offer for this clause of the government?

CMD – Saab has also provided a comprehensive Make in India offer for long term job creation with substantial production, maintenance and development capability. We have provided a comprehensive capability transfer concept that goes well beyond just a technology transfer programme and includes supporting current and future indigenous fighter programmes, including the AMCA.

All of these would be provided at a competitive cost, covering the entire lifecycle of the aircraft and the systems.

LoS – Adani groups is one of your perspective Indian partner in executing the Make in India clauses. In the past year, Adani has made substantial foray into the defence sector, how do you rate Adani’s capabilities in manufacturing a complex war machine such as a fighter aircraft?

CMD – The Adani Group is one of the largest world scale companies in India. They have a long history of enterprise spanning several decades of dynamic growth. Their basic infrastructure capabilities in port, energy, infrastructure, trade, logistics gives them a strong base for their foray into defence. Our plans in India are based not just on selling products but on creating a defence eco-system which would involve hundreds of Tier 1, 2 and 3 partners, vendors and suppliers. We believe that we would need a strong infrastructure partner who can help create the basic framework for this infrastructure to come into place.

LoS – Since the inception of your partnership with Adani, what has been the progress in it? Has there been any movement on the ground?

CMD – We are actively pursuing broader partnerships on different levels for the fighter program as well as for other programs that we are or intend to be involved in.

LoS- SAAB was also a perspective OEM for meeting the requirements of Indian Navy vis-à-vis carrier borne fighters. Has SAAB responded to the RFI? And, how is the programme towards the development of Gripen-M progressing?

CMD – Saab has responded to the Indian Navy request for information to meet the needs of the future carrier fleet, for a total of 57 new fighters. Gripen M (Maritime) is a fully certified design for a carrier capable version of the latest generation Gripen E that Saab is currently offering to the Indian Air Force.  It is modified to launch from a carrier with either a catapult or ski-ramp assisted short take-off.  In both cases, recovery will be by arrested landing using a hook.  The main changes between the Gripen E and M are strengthened main and nose undercarriage, a hook for arrested landings, and some airframe internal strengthening.  The aircraft is fully marinised for all weather/all climate carrier operations.

Saab Gripen Fighter

LoS – The now-dead MMRCA tender was scuttled only in 2015, which was a stretched hunt for about a decade. The Air Force yet again began its hunt for the MMRCA platforms. Are there any changes that you have noticed in the new tendering process? What are the changes that SAAB expects to see when it comes to India’s defence procurement programs?

CMD – The big change is in the route being adopted through the addition of a Strategic Partner. We expect the process to faster and smoother this time around as the IAF is conversant with the aircraft.

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