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The Replacements Part 4: Gripen about the Next Fighter

After studying foreign aircraft including the F-16, F/A-18 and Dassault Mirage, Saab developed the imaginatively named “2105” (later renamed 2110).

The predecessor to today’s Gripen was engineered as a Mach Two-capable aircraft with an air-to-air emphasis and air-to-ground and reconnaissance capabilities, including the ability to takeoff from short, unprepared runways. The goal was also to reduce the size of the Gripen in contrast to the outgoing Viggen, while improving on payload, wing-loading capabilities and maneuverability.

The avionics and the fly-by-wire system intended for use in the aircraft were tested in the Viggen in 1983*. The Gripen, as it was later called during competition, required such a system because it was designed to be more aerodynamically unstable than the average fighter already in production at that time.

After a long period of final development, the Saab JAS-39 Gripen entered service in Sweden in 1997. The delays came primarily (but not exclusively) from two accidents that forced Saab to re-examine the Gripen’s systems and make several changes to improve safety and flight behaviour.

Gripen NG Can Final

Fast forward to today, and the forthcoming Saab JAS-39 Gripen “NG” presents itself as a highly-capable, economical fighter aircraft.

One of the biggest selling points of the Gripen is its projected low maintenance costs, achieved by modifying the aircraft’s engine and airframe to deliberately reduce its total number of parts/components. According to Saab, fewer parts not only means less maintenance, but less downtime.

Another big selling point for the Gripen is its reasonable unit cost. Add final assembly in Canada to the equation and a few years of support costs and its value becomes a little clearer. Here’s an easy cost comparison:

  • Total cost of Saab Gripen procurement x 1.5 = price of the Super Hornet procurement
  • Saab Gripens x 2 = price of the Typhoon or Rafale
  • Saab Gripens x 3 ¾ = price of the F-35

While the Gripen NG might be cheap in comparison, it can still boast impressive performance. The aircraft can sustain 9+Gs in a turn, and with a thrust-to-weight ratio of 1.06 in air-to-air configuration with 100% fuel, it is outclassed only by the Typhoon. It’s also capable of speeds in excess of Mach Two, and has a climb rate of 50,000 ft/min.

Where the Gripen NG falls a little short is in payload. It has the least payload capability compared to its rivals, and while it is capable of air-to-ground, it is less focused in this area than the F-35, Super Hornet and Rafale. This leaves it somewhat on par with the Typhoon, from what I have been able to find.

This isn’t necessarily a detriment, however. Part One of this series covered the requirements of the RCAF and CAF for the next fighter along with its planned duties. The Gripen NG meets every single one of our non-discretionary domestic obligations, including NORAD, and it is more than capable of meeting any discretionary role we play with NATO or in a global war scenario (keyword being discretionary).

The biggest drawback to the Gripen NG (that isn’t payload-related) is its single engine. In the Arctic, out over the Beaufort Sea (Russia’s historical breach point) a single engine, regardless of reliability, is a concern for obvious reasons. That said, unlike the F-35, which already has a troubled engine history, the Gripen NG makes use of — here it comes — a modified Super Hornet engine. This engine was based on the one fielded by the legacy Hornet, and has already proven its reliability in Canadian conditions.

That being said, two engines will always be better than one from a safety standpoint. I guess it boils down to whether the lives of our servicemen and women matter more than saving money. For me personally, the extra cost is worth it.

One other possible scenario would be the purchase of 100 Gripen NGs and 65 Typhoons for $29.49 billion (substitute the Rafale for $28.12 billion or the Super Hornet for $24.48 billion). If you compare that to a total cost of $31.98 billion for 65 F-35s; Canada would get two aircraft capable of meeting our domestic needs with the added flexibility of keeping a two-engine fleet for use over the Arctic.

If Canada decides to go “mixed fleet” it would need the Gripen NGs. There is nothing else in that price range that can boast its aforementioned capabilities. But, as a single fleet solution, I just don’t see it. And in the current CF-18 replacement fighter program, Saab doesn’t either. The company is currently not putting the Gripen forward as a contender — although with an election around the corner, things may change.

Given the likelihood of a mixed fleet somewhere between infinitesimal and zero, the Gripen NG loses out in my mind due to that single engine. Thus far, my favorite is still the Typhoon; however, on performance and cost alone, it’s hard to write-off the Gripen. I guess time will tell. Only an open and fair competition can truly determine what’s right. Everything else is just educated musings.

That concludes Part Four. Part Five will cover the F-35, the fighter that’s been front-and-center to Canadians for several years now.

* Fly-by-wire first appeared in the Avro Arrow, and interestingly enough, a very similar system made its way into the F-16. The Arrow was also the first delta wing and the German’s were the only other country at the time studying the feasibility as well.

Chris Black has been an avid aviation enthusiast his entire life and is a former Air Cadet with 618 Queen City based at HMCS York. His love for all things aviation coupled with missing out on becoming a fighter pilot led him to begin writing as a way to share thoughts and ideas with fellow enthusiasts. His blog, On Final, and it’s accompanying Facebook and Twitter accounts can be found here:  onfinalblog.com / facebook.com/onfinalblog / twitter.com/onfinalblog

Author: Chris Black

Chris Black has been an avid aviation enthusiast his entire life and is a former Air Cadet with 618 Queen City based at HMCS York. His love for all things aviation coupled with missing out on becoming a fighter pilot led him to begin writing as a way to share thoughts and ideas with fellow enthusiasts. His blog, On Final, and its accompanying Facebook and Twitter accounts can be found here: onfinalblog.com / facebook.com/onfinalblog / twitter.com/onfinalblog

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10 Comments

  1. Mr. Black it is great to read more on the Gripen E option for Canada. The Gripen E/F has many improvements in the structure including new gear and 40% increase in internal fuel giving it better range then F-35 and F-18E yet fitted with comparable and in some cases such as the UK made Selex AESA radar and IRST system better in the air to air role then F-35. So good Selex has made claim to be able to detect and track any “stealth” aircraft from long range with the Raven AESA and Skyward G IRST combination that will be offered in the Gripen E for Canada.

    Two points that I would like to make on your comments. First as far as the Gripen a lesser safe jet due to it’s single engine the fact is there is no jet fighter in the world safer then the Gripen. There has never been a loss of a Gripen due to an engine issue of any kind including large bird ingestions now over 280,000 flight hours. And there has never been a structural or fatigue issues in the program. The Gripen consistently proves better reliability at NATO fighter exercises with much smaller ground support. 100% reliability is the common for Gripens at exercises.

    Second the lack of a payload is not an issue with the Gripen E. As an air defense / interceptor the Gripen E can super cruise with a 6 missile intercept load at mach 1.2 for long distances. F-35 no longer can make this claim and F-18E will never be capable of this. As far as a bomb truck take a look at what the CF-18 and F-18E are dropping currently in operations. These most used loads in combat are nothing the Gripen E cannot match yet at 1/2 the cost per hour. The efficiency of the design is much illustrated when comparing it to the Hornets.

    Thanks for writing your article.

    Post a Reply
    • Thanks for the kind words and for the info.

      You make excellent points and I’d have to agree.

      Post a Reply
      • Dear Sir,

        I am a concerned Canadian citizen who is very pleased Canada has decided not to buy the F-35 fighter plane. What I don’t understand is how anyone can fathom that the F-35 will cost less then other programs. South Africa is having a tough time maintaining its fleet of 26 Gripen Aircraft. Brazil and India have both significantly cut orders of their new fighter jets.

        This would be my following proposal. Split fleet air craft. According to the Canadian report in order for a mixed fleet to be cost effective it had to work something like this. Group A would consist of 38 planes capable of performing our NATO obligations. Group B would have to cost less then half of Group A.
        My proposal would be to purchase. 38 F-16 super viper models. The super viper has the AESA Radar, Helmet Cuing system and conformal fuel tanks and is capable of supercruise. At a price of 50 million per unit, it is 10 million cheaper US then the F-18 Super Hornet. Group B would consist of 27 less capable but cheaper KAI FA-50 Aircraft. The KAI F-50 is a joint Lockheed South Korean partnership, that is based off the T-50 trainer air craft. This KAI T-50 is based off the original F-16 but has 2 seats. At a cost of 31 million US for the multi role FA-50 model it is by far the most economical option. The T-50 costs approximately 20 million US which is 7 million cheaper per unit then our current BAE Hawks which also need replacing along with the snowbirds.
        UNIT COST ONLY
        38 F-16 SV = 1.9 Billion US
        27 KAI FA-50 = .837 Billion US

        30 KAI T-50 =.6 billion US (replace BAE hawks)
        25 KAI T-50B = .5 billion US (replace snowbirds)

        That would essentially give Canada a fleet of F-16s. At a combat record of 72-0, the F-16 is no slouch. The maintenance of these air craft would be less then our current Cf18s, and would use less fuel. As for the one engine vs two. That argument would have some merit if our pilots were not flying there CF18s with just one engine on for the last 20 years anyways. Also this replaces our training aircraft with a more capable supersonic model and the T-50 could also be equipped with weapons if ever needed. Both the KAI FA-50 and F-16SV use weapons we already currently use on our CF18s. The KAI FA-50 also shares the same engine as our current CF-18s.

        If Lockheed martin offered the same industry benefits as it did India with the F-16 Super Viper, I think it would be quite a hard offer to turn down. After all our last Government indicated pretty strongly to LM that we were going to purchase the F-35. Its a lot easier for a business to give “store credit” rather then a “refund”

        Shane Stone

        Post a Reply
      • So, does this mean you’re going to modify the article to reflect this? Does this possibly mean that the Super Gripen moves up in your rankings?

        Post a Reply
        • Hard to say. I realize this was a year go now and a lot has changed but if I had to order them at present it would be:

          1 – F-35A
          2 – Rafale
          3 – Gripen
          4 – Typhoon
          5 – F-16 (some variant of the Saudi F-16)
          6 – F-15SE (If we could find a partner to help lower costs)
          7 – Super Hornet / Growler (waste of money IMO and irrelevant in the battlefield beyond 2025. The exception being the growler but what good is an aircraft that loses 5 hardpoints to PODs?

          Post a Reply
  2. I would love to know where you are getting you prices from…
    Using your numbers:

    F-35: 319.8 million each
    JAS 39E: 85.28 million
    F/A-18: 127.92
    Eurocanards: 170.56

    Rafale
    India: $220 Million each
    Qatar: $290 Million each
    Published flyaway cost: $101 Mil in 2013
    http://www.senat.fr/rap/a13-158-8/a13-158-813.html#toc178

    Typhoon:
    Kuwait: €285 million
    http://www.thenational.ae/business/aviation/kuwait-agrees-to-buy-28-eurofighter-typhoons-in-multibillion-euro-deal
    Published flyaway cost:”140 million USD” or £125m per UK published audits.
    http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/3da930d4-58a7-11e5-a28b-50226830d644.html#axzz3n4a7oTy2

    F/A-18 SH
    Australia: A$120.83 (before Growler mods and EF-18G purchase)
    Fly away cost: Proposed FY2016 budget 95.83 each
    Fly away cost: US$60.9 million Sec of the Navy white paper
    “Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 President’s Budget Submission: Navy Justification Book Volume 1 Aircraft Procurement, Navy Budget Activities 1–4” (Since removed)

    F-35A
    Canada: $319.8 ea per your data
    US and rest of the world: 95 million for LRIP 8 (98 million for LRIP 7)
    http://breakingdefense.com/2014/11/new-f-35-prices-a-95m-b-116m-c-102m/

    JAS 39E
    Brazil: $152
    http://www.business-standard.com/article/economy-policy/brazil-chooses-gripen-over-rafale-114103000027_1.html
    Flyaway cost: ?? but I suspect your $85 mil quoted price.

    You need to please add an extra Part to explain how you came up with these cost numbers.

    Post a Reply
    • The Gripen actually costs $122 million per airframe (see the graphic I included for cost breakdown) and that includes it’s stated $6,000 per flight hour maintenance cost. All of the graphics included on the pages show where the full cost comes from.

      I chose to roll every cost we will face over 30 years (9,000 hours) based on the CAF’s 30 year projection for requirements and the RCAF’s 300 hours per year, per airframe) because I hate political games and felt the need to put everything together into one consolidated cost to give a full picture.

      The maintenance numbers have come from the Association of the United States Navy documents and other sources such as the independent report for the F-35A for Canada (secretariat of procurement’s site) and any other sites I could find with declassified reports and info on costs from Global Security to public records pages for Government files.

      I am actually currently working on a roadmap for all of the info I’ve found over the last year on all subjects to put them in one place for convenience, also because my browser favorites have become a mess and I need easy access as well.

      My apologies for not being more clear on this subject. They include the maintenance costs over 30 years.

      Example:

      Foreign cost (Brazil documentation and Sweden and most info I’ve found from Global Security and janes as well) for JAS 39:

      $69 million

      Maintenance cost: Janes/Global Security

      $6,000 per flight hour

      That translates to $54 million per aircraft over 9,000 hours (30 years)

      Adding that to to the fly-away comes to $122 million per airframe. However, like Lockheed there is a lot of scandal talk surrounding Saab (and all of the makers actually) so I also realize that all of these numbers are sketchy at best and are simply my own attempts at an educated conclusion based on the best info I could find. Again, they’re all elevated because I chose to include what I could find with regards to info on maintenance costs per flight hour.

      That’s also why I support an open and transparent competition as it’s the only way to sort all of this out properly as all countries have different cost considerations which will effect the final numbers and it’s also the best way to see which aircraft handles Canada’s somewhat unique requirements and non-discretionary duties.

      Post a Reply
  3. the twin engine argument in this age of better engines is both outdated and not relevent to causes of canadian jet losses -which has generally been from pilot error.
    besides, the avoidance of another multirole usnavy fighter/bomber means less training investment in each pilot thus less attrition loss.
    the very downfall of the F35 was this insane insistence of designing a single airframe to serve in so many conflicting roles.
    as a taxpayer, i say that even if ALL the plane options costs the exact same in the initial purchase, i still feel that we refuse any that are not to be cojointly manufactured here and who’s engines are not based on a proven american design.
    this said, it seems obvious to me that a two plane solution makes a hell of a lot better sense, along with the us airforce’s high/low formula of a mass produced lightweight fighter in combination with smaller numbers of air superiority fighters.
    a big downfall was NATO’s inability to make a common truely economical multinationallly made lightweight fighter after the F5 tiger-sticking us instead with the f16 which suffered frame problems and was really closer to a medium weight multirole. the f20 was i believe ideal and india’s tejas again a step in the right direction for a defensive interceptor/patrol fighter.
    based on all of this i say the saab gripen to be the best choice based on purely economical reasons of maintenance and fuel consumption along with canadian jobs.
    if we feel the need for stealth and a twin engine longer range strike role, then a small order of the f15 stealths in the future–when actually available – would complement the gripen’s limitations nicely

    Post a Reply
  4. Here are some few pertinent links to your condrum 🙂

    https://thaimilitaryandasianregion.wordpress.com/2016/02/22/saab-gripen-e-details/

    As for the rest of it, two engines, two points of failure, We remade the first engine in Sweden and it has done us right, This aircraft is proven to fly anywhere, hot or cold, at high altitudes and low. Some quotes.

    “During a combat exercise with the Royal Norwegain Air Force, 3 Swedish Gripens went up against 5 RNAF F-16’s. the result was 5-0, 5-0, 5-1 after having flown 3 rounds. During Loyal Arrow in Sweden, 3 F-15C’s from the USAF were intercepted by a Gripen acting as an aggressor. The result was 2 F-15’s having been shot down and one managed to escape due to better thrust/weight. One Gripen pilot knocked down five F-16 block 50+ during close air combat in

    Red Flag Alaska and the Gripens never lost any aerial encounter, or failed their mission objectives. It was the only fighter that perfomed all planed starts, while others where sitting on the ground waiting for the weather to clear up. These were the old versions of the Gripen, mind you.

    Over the last 5 years Gripen, Rafale and Typhoon have come to Red Flag. With their advanced EW suites and superior data links Gripen and Rafale in 2,4,6 & 7 aircraft linked radars(quasi phased array)had no problem locating F-22 Raptors and remaining undetected by everything but big powerful radar scans, which would have lead to their death by Meteor. Raptor pilots reported these smaller fighters were upon them WVR before the F-22s vaunted electronics suite could detect them, the smaller Gripen was within gun fighting range before being detected. Raptor pilots were forced to go vertical and escape most of the time using their huge P&W at full AB, not a very good technique against a average pilot with a mid 1960s vintage heat seeking missile. Last years Red Flag Alaska was highlighted by German Typhoons using similar tactic to wax Raptors left and right. At the farewell dinner there were no caterers, losers cook for the winners, Raptor pilots did the cooking.

    Remember dual engines is dual posibility of failure. I remember when we had a nordic joint meeting in the north of Sweden where a dual engine couldnt partisipate because of engine failure. Engine failure just inst happening with gripens, never has.”Between 1988 and March 31, 2012, there were 228 precautionary engine shutdowns in CF-18 engines” Maybe you are used to it and afraid it will happend to gripens. I bet saab will guarantee you a new plane in that case. / Regards SWEguest”

    “Simulation has the Gripen E shooting down the Su-35 at almost the same rate that the F-22 does. The Gripen E is estimated to be able to shoot down 1.6 Su-35s for every Gripen E lost, the F-22 is slightly better at 2.0 Su-35s shot down per F-22 lost. In turn the Su-35 is better than the F-35, shooting down 2.4 F-35s for each Su-35 shot down. The Su-35 slaughters the F-18 Super Hornet at the rate of eight to one, as per General Hostage’s comment. How that comes about is explained by the following graphic of instantaneous turn rate plotted against sustained turn http://dailycaller.com/2016/01/22/american-gripen-the-solution-to-the-f-35-nightmare/

    Sweden made the first Data link, actually in the sixties, not the seventies. Draken used it in the seventies, so 50 years of development behind our ‘peer to peer’ datalink today, not to be confused with Link 16. It is included in the ‘weaponsuit’ you will get, not a ‘option’ but a standard. Before, it seemed to be the opposite, link 16 as the ‘premium choice’, but it seems SAAB found their common sense at last.

    Now everyone will want to discuss range etc, missing that all this aircraft need is five guys and a technician, and a road. It will work in Canada too.

    Post a Reply
  5. Is it possible to clean up the spelling a little? on the piece I sent in before?
    conundrum= ‘condrum’

    Also, the formating is a little ‘off’, copy and paste didn’t work as expected here.

    Best regards
    Yoron.

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