Three bids have been submitted to Bulgaria for its new fighter acquisition, namely the Saab GRIPEN C/D, Lockheed Martin F-16A/B and Eurofighter TYPHOON.
In response to the request for proposals that was issued at the end of 2016, the three bids were submitted on 13 March, and will now be evaluated ahead of a downselect to one type that is expected to be delivered between 2018 and 2020. Eight aircraft will be delivered over this period, the Bulgarian Ministry of Defence says.
The F-16s are being proposed through a teaming agreement between the US and Portuguese governments that will see the ex-US Air Force aircraft upgraded, while the TYPHOONs would be second-hand from Italy. The GRIPEN, meanwhile, would consist of new-build C/D variants, which would restart the production line of the type in Sweden.
During its annual GRIPEN seminar on 15 March, Saab claimed that there is interest for both the C/D and E/F configurations of its fighter, and it is eyeing different markets for the two variants.
Among the nations it is pitching the C/D variant to are Botswana, Croatia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Slovakia, while the E/F is being targeted at Belgium, Canada, Colombia, Finland, and Switzerland.
“We now have to secure more prospects for GRIPEN, C, D, E and F,” Richard Smith, head of Gripen marketing and sales, told the seminar. “When looking at the competition, we have a mature fighter…that’s affordable.”
The first GRIPEN E was unveiled in May 2018 and two more follow on aircraft are in varying stages of development.
Taxi tests of the first example began at the end of 2016, and the company has since carried out software and simulation testing in the lead up to a maiden flight expected to be carried out this year.
“We are in the middle of a very intensive development phase,” Jerker Ahlqvist, head of Gripen at Saab, said. “We are intensively running software in the lead up to the first flight. Of course, there is now a lot of focus on that first flight.”
First deliveries to Sweden are targeted for 2019, which will be followed by deliveries to export customer Brazil. “Everything is going to plan and looks very promising,” Ahlqvist said.
The company is also once again defining the development of a maritime variant of GRIPEN that can operate from vessels, largely in response to a request for information from India for a carrier-based fighter.
Saab is preparing its response at the moment, and although timelines on the development of such a capability have not yet been decided on, Smith says that India, “has a timeframe set out”.
The company is planning on leveraging the working partnership it has with Brazilian industry that sees it provide the GRIPEN to Brazîlia to offer a similar deal to India, a country that is keen on IP transfer when it imports technology.
“There are similarities in what the Indians want to what the Brazilians have received in terms of transfer,” Smith said.
Brazil was previously a potential target market for the maritime version, but the nation recently decommissioned its São Paulo aircraft carrier, thus eliminating the need for aircraft of this type.
Beth Stevenson, London