Saab is preparing to load the required software onto an GRIPEN E fighter prototype, in preparation for a maiden test flight that is expected to happen in the second quarter of this year.
While the first flight was originally planned to take place by the end of 2016, Saab made the decision to further develop and certify the software before the GRIPEN E first flew, although the company claims that the developmental schedule still remains on track in order to deliver the type to contracted customers Sweden and Brazil.
The first operational squadron of GRIPEN E will be qualified for multirole operations by the end of 2023, while all GRIPEN squadrons will be converted to the new version by 2026, Maj. Johan Jeppson, Director of Operations for the operational test and evaluation unit of the Swedish Air Force, told media at Malmen air force base.
The Swedish Air Force is still undecided on what cockpit configuration it will select for its E models, and a decision on this is imminent. It has the choice between a single large screen, or the three-screen configuration that is found in the C/D model.
The C/D variants currently in operation with Sweden are in the process of receiving an MS20 upgrade, which provides GRIPEN with the capability to carry METEOR and Small Diameter Bomb weapons. Seven METEOR can be carried on GRIPEN E, an increase on the four that can be carried on the C model.
The Swedish Ministry of Defence has also signed contracts to roll out the upgrades on the Czech Republic’s and Hungary’s GRIPENs.
Upgrade packages MS21 and MS22 will be introduced onto the GRIPEN E, while an MS23 standard is also being assessed for an aircraft that will ultimately replace the E model. MS21 will include basic air-to-air capabilities, while MS22 will include the full multi-role capabiity.
Other potential customers for the E variant include Belgium and Finland that are looking for 30-40 and 48-60 examples respectively, as well as Switzerland that is once again starting a fighter competition after a public referendum overlooked a GRIPEN acqusition in 2014. Richard Smith, Head of GRIPEN Marketing at Saab, could not disclose the number of aircraft required by Switzerland, but said it would be more than the 22 it looked for last time.
Smith also noted that GRIPEN has a, “reasonable chance in Canada,” as the nation continues to assess its option for a long-term CF-18C/D HORNET replacement.
Smith said that there has been an upturn in defence budgets of target nations for GRIPEN recently, although he ackowledged that there has been a slight dip in Latin American markets. Colombia is one potential market for GRIPEN, which Smith said could be leveraged from the success the fighter has seen in Brazil.
In the Asia-Pacific, Saab is targeting requirements in India, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines, and it is also eyeing customers for new-build C/D variants, including Botswana, Bulgaria, Croatia, and Slovakia.
Botswana released a request for proposals for an undisclosed number of fighters in June 2016, which Sweden responded to in January 2017, and, “discussions are very much ongoing at the moment”, Smith said.
Discussions have previously surrounded extra aircraft for Brazil, but it is waiting for the aircraft to start flying before a decision is made on this. “The focus right now is the execution of the current contract,” Smith said.
The company is working on a number of elements to prepare itself for any potential new GRIPEN C/D order, which would help speed up deliveries. Saab said it could deliver a new fighter within 18 months of an order.