The SAAB JAS 39 Gripen E (NG), The Future Fighter for Finland?

Saab JAS 39 Gripen E (NG)
Saab JAS 39 Gripen E (NG)

Gripen is a unique fighter concept, bringing a perfect balance between excellent operational performance, high-tech solutions, cost-efficiency and industrial partnership into one, smart fighter system. That is why it is referred to as “The smart fighter”. But what does the Gripen E offer? And will it fulfill the requirements for Finland’s next generation of combat aircraft?

The next generation Gripen, the Gripen E, is built to adapt to changing threats and operational requirements that modern air forces face.

Based on the proven Gripen C/D platform, the Gripen E (also referred to as Gripen E/F) carries this heritage and continues to be one of the most advanced multi-role fighters in the world – revolutionary because it combines advanced technology and operational effectiveness in an affordable package that no other fighter aircraft can even hope to match.

TRUE MULTI-ROLE FIGHTER

Gripen E is a fully NATO-interoperable, true multi-role fighter with outstanding availability, tailored for the future Network Centric Warfare (NCW) environment. Gripen E will meet the demanding operational requirements of the 21st century air forces and its unrivalled multi-role capability provides excellent tactical flexibility.

OPERATIONAL DOMINANCE

Gripen E offers operational dominance and flexibility with superior mission survivability. Air-to-air superiority is guaranteed with METEOR, AMRAAM, IRIS-T, AIM-9 missile capability and supercruise. Air-to-surface capability is assured through the use of the latest generation precision weapons and targeting sensors. Gripen E’s superior situation awareness is ensured through an AESA radar, IRST passive sensor, HMD, cutting-edge avionics, next generation data processing and a state-of-the-art cockpit.

AGM-65 Armed Gripen Es
AGM-65 Armed Gripen Es

NETWORK CENTRIC WARFARE

Together with proven Network Centric Warfare capabilities including advanced data communications, dual data links, satellite communications and video links, make Gripen E the ideal independent fighter of choice. On-board sensors, in combination with HMD/NVG, deliver the ability to detect and destroy a wide variety of targets, even at night or in poor weather conditions.

A fighter mission can be compared to large scale chess games, where the fighter allows you to get the right situation awareness in order to communicate the right information to take the adequate decision. The same analogy to chess games applies regardless if the mission to perform is air-to-air, reconnaissance or air-to-ground. In all the case the fighter needs the following:

  • Information
  • Movements
  • Weapons

The Gripen E fighter is equipped with the latest available technics in those keys areas. Here we present some of the features that make the Gripen E -The Smart Fighter.

Gripen E AESA Radar
Gripen E AESA Radar
Gripen NG AESA Radar - SELEX ES-05 RAVEN
Gripen NG AESA Radar – SELEX ES-05 RAVEN
  • AESA stands for Active Electronically Scanned Array and means that, in contrast to older generation radars, it has not only one antenna but a full array of small antennas, called elements. This means that the radar can simultaneously and independently track different targets, and also track targets independently of search volumes.
Gripen NG IRST
Gripen NG IRST
  • IRST an electro-optical system mounted on top of the nose, just in front of the canopy, and is looking forward in a wide sector registering heat emissions from other aircraft, helicopters and from objects on the ground and sea surface. The tactical advantage of a passive sensor is that it will not give your position away.
Gripen NG Electronic Warfare System.
Gripen NG Electronic Warfare System.
  • The highly advanced EW system can function as a passive or active sensor, warning for incoming missiles or radar looking at you. It can also be used for electronic attacks and jamming other radars. Coupled to the countermeasure such as chaff and flares the EW system can enhance the survivability.
  • Almost any weapon can be integrated, giving Gripen E very high weapon flexibility. This is partly due to the flexible avionic architecture. Because of its well-documented ease of new weapon integration, Gripen served as the main test platform for Meteor, the latest long range air to air missile.
  • Gripen E is a Network Centric fighter and can communicate two ways with all armed units. It has a secure and multi-frequency data links system that provides total situation awareness. The acquired information – along with information about each Gripen’s position, fuel and weapon status – is shared with other Gripen fighters via the data link.
  • Gripen E is built for high survivability in a combat environment. Gripen tactics are based on smart use of a variety of electronic warfare capabilities. The RWR (Radar Warning Receiver) is the source for an accurate sensor for detecting emitting threats such as radar. And the Missile Approach Warning (MAW) system can detect and track incoming missiles of all types.

Technical details for Gripen E

Length over all 15.2 meters
Width over all 8.6 meters
Maximum take-off weight 16500 kg
Max thrust 98 kN
Hardpoints 10
Maximum speed Mach 2 (Supercruise)
Combat turnaround air-to-air 10 minutes

Battlefield network

The Gripen data link system (TIDLS), along with a Link 16 or National Data Link provide the following capabilities:

  • Data link within the Tactical Air Unit
  • Data link between Gripen E, AEW&C and C2 centries on ground or at sea
  • Data link with Forward Air Controller.
Gripen NG Communications and Data Links
Gripen NG Communications and Data Links

MULTI-ROLE CAPABILITY

Gripen E has weapons for all types of mission, from guided glide bombs for precision engagement with low collateral damage, to long-range and agile air-to-air missiles and heavy anti-ship armaments. Additionally, the aircraft has an inherent precision strike and stand-off capability.

The single-seat Gripen E is equipped with a 27 mm Mauser BK27 gun. This can be used in air-to-surface attacks against land and sea targets and is suitable for air policing missions. Gripen NG can also carry pods and sensors for reconnaissance and special missions. These include Litening, Reccelite, DJRP and MRPS pods.

It is one of the easiest aircraft of its kind to add new weapons to. This makes it a favourite among weapons companies as they can quickly and easily use Gripen for development. For example, it was selected for testing the Meteor missile. This benefits users, as new armaments are available to them more quickly compared to other aircraft.

Gripen NG Multi-Role Weapons Package
Gripen NG Multi-Role Weapons Package (click to enlarge)

The Gripen NG was ordered in 2007 as a testbed for various upgrades. It was powered by the General Electric F414G, a development of the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet’s engine. The Gripen NG’s maximum take-off weight was increased from 14,000 to 16,000 kg (30,900–35,300 lb), internal fuel capacity was increased by 40 per cent by relocating the undercarriage, which also allowed for two hardpoints to be added on the fuselage underside.

Its combat radius was 1,300 kilometres (810 mi) when carrying six AAMs and drop tanks. The PS-05/A radar is replaced by the new Raven ES-05 active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, which is based on the Vixen AESA radar family from Selex ES. The Gripen Demo’s maiden flight was conducted on 27 May 2008. On 21 January 2009, the Gripen Demo flew at Mach 1.2 without reheat to test its supercruise capability. The Gripen Demo served as a basis for the Gripen E/F, also referred to as the Gripen NG (Next Generation) and MS (Material Standard) 21.

Saab studied a variant of the Gripen capable of operating from aircraft carriers in the 1990s. In 2009, it launched the Sea Gripen project in response to India’s request for information on a carrier-borne aircraft. Brazil may also require new carrier aircraft. Following a meeting with Ministry of Defence (MoD) officials in May 2011, Saab agreed to establish a development center in the UK to expand on the Sea Gripen concept. In 2013, Saab’s Lennart Sindahl stated that development of an optionally manned version of the Gripen E capable of flying unmanned operations was being explored by the firm; further development of the optionally manned and carrier versions would require the commitment of a customer. On 6 November 2014, the Brazilian Navy expressed interest in a carrier-based variant of the Gripen.

In 2010, Sweden awarded Saab a four-year contract to improve the Gripen’s radar and other equipment, integrate new weapons, and lower its operating costs. In June 2010, Saab stated that Sweden planned to order the Gripen NG, designated JAS 39E/F, and was to enter service in 2017 or earlier dependent on export orders. On 25 August 2012, following Switzerland’s intention to buy 22 of the E/F variants, Sweden announced it planned to buy 40–60 Gripen E/Fs. The Swedish government approved the decision to purchase 60 Gripen Es on 17 January 2013.

In July 2013, assembly began on the first pre-production aircraft. Originally 60 JAS 39Cs were to be retrofitted to the E-models by 2023, but this has been revised to Gripen Es having new-built airframes and some reused parts from JAS 39Cs. The first production aircraft is to be delivered in 2018. In March 2014, Saab revealed the detailed design and indicated it planned to receive military type certification in early 2018.

Saab Gripen E
Saab Gripen E

In September 2015, Saab Aeronautics head Lennard Sindhal announced that an electronic warfare version of the Gripen F two-seater was under development.

The Gripen E/F makes use of a new active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, Raven ES-05, based on the Vixen AESA radar family from Selex ES. Among other improvements, the new radar is to be capable of scanning over a greatly increased field of view and improved range. In addition, the new Gripen integrates the Skyward-G Infra-red search and track (IRST) sensor, which is capable of passively detecting thermal emissions from air and ground targets in the aircraft’s vicinity. The sensors of the Gripen E are claimed to be able to detect low radar cross-section (RCS) targets at beyond visual range. Targets are tracked by a “best sensor dominates” system, either by onboard sensors or through the Transmitter Auxiliary Unit (TAU) data link function of the radar.

The primary flight controls are compatible with the HOTAS control principle – the centrally mounted stick, in addition to flying the aircraft, also controls the cockpit displays and weapon systems. A triplex, digital fly-by-wire system is employed on the Gripen’s flight controls, with a mechanical backup for the throttle. Additional functions, such as communications, navigational and decision support data, can be accessed via the up-front control panel, directly above the central cockpit display. The Gripen includes the EP-17 cockpit display system, developed by Saab to provide pilots with a high level of situational awareness and reduces pilot workload through intelligent information management. The Gripen features a sensor fusion capability, information from onboard sensors and databases is combined, automatically analysed, and useful data is presented to the pilot via a wide field-of-view head-up display, three large multi-function colour displays, and optionally a helmet mounted display system (HMDS).

Of the three multi-function displays (MFD), the central display is for navigational and mission data, the display to the left of the center shows aircraft status and electronic warfare information, and the display to the right of the center has sensory and fire control information. In two-seat variants, the rear seat’s displays can be operated independently of the pilot’s own display arrangement in the forward seat, Saab has promoted this capability as being useful during electronic warfare and reconnaissance missions, and while carrying out command and control activities. In May 2010, Sweden began equipping their Gripens with additional onboard computer systems and new displays. The MFDs are interchangeable and designed for redundancy in the event of failure, flight information can be presented on any of the displays.

Gripen E Cockpit

Saab and BAE developed the Cobra HMDS for use in the Gripen, based on the Striker HMDS used on the Eurofighter. By 2008, the Cobra HMDS was fully integrated on operational aircraft, and is available as an option for export customers; it has been retrofitted into older Swedish and South African Gripens. The HMDS provides control and information on target cueing, sensor data, and flight parameters, and is optionally equipped for night time operations and with chemical/biological filtration. All connections between the HMDS and the cockpit were designed for rapid detachment, for safe use of the ejection system.

The JAS 39E and F variants currently under development are to adopt the F414G powerplant, a variant of the General Electric F414. The F414G can produce 20% greater thrust than the current RM12 engine, enabling the Gripen to supercruise (maintain speed beyond the sound barrier without the use of afterburners) at a speed of Mach 1.1 while carrying an air-to-air combat payload. In 2010, Volvo Aero stated it was capable of further developing its RM12 engine to better match the performance of the F414G, and claimed that developing the RM12 would be a less expensive option. Prior to Saab’s selection of the F414G, the Eurojet EJ200 had also been under consideration for the Gripen; proposed implementations included the use of thrust vectoring.

General Electric F414-G
General Electric F414-G

The Gripen is compatible with a number of different armaments, beyond the aircraft’s single 27 mm Mauser BK-27 cannon (omitted on the two-seat variants), including air-to-air missiles such as the AIM-9 Sidewinder, air-to-ground missiles such as the AGM-65 Maverick, and anti-ship missiles such as the RBS-15. In 2010, the Swedish Air Force’s Gripen fleet completed the MS19 upgrade process, enabling compatibility with a range of weapons, including the long-range MBDA Meteor missile, the short-range IRIS-T missile and the GBU-49 laser-guided bomb. Speaking on the Gripen’s selection of armaments, Saab’s campaign director for India Edvard de la Motte stated that: “If you buy Gripen, select where you want your weapons from. Israel, Sweden, Europe, US… South America. It’s up to the customer”.

In flight, the Gripen is typically capable of carrying up to 14,330 lb (6.50 t) of assorted armaments and equipment. Equipment includes external sensor pods for reconnaissance and target designation, such as Rafael’s LITENING targeting pod, Saab’s Modular Reconnaissance Pod System, or Thales’ Digital Joint Reconnaissance Pod. The Gripen has an advanced and integrated electronic warfare suite, capable of operating in an undetectable passive mode or to actively jam hostile radar; a missile approach warning system passively detects and tracks incoming missiles. In November 2013, it was announced that Saab will be the first to offer the BriteCloud expendable Active jammer developed by Selex ES. In June 2014, the Enhanced Survivability Technology Modular Self Protection Pod, a defensive missile countermeasure pod, performed its first flight on the Gripen.

Saab describes the Gripen as a “swing-role aircraft”, stating that it is capable of “instantly switching between roles at the push of a button”. The human/machine interface changes when switching between roles, being optimized by the computer in response to new situations and threats. The Gripen is also equipped to use a number of different communications standards and systems, including SATURN secure radio, Link-16, ROVER, and satellite uplinks. Equipment for performing long range missions, such as an aerial refueling probe and onboard oxygen generation system (OBOGS), was integrated upon the Gripen C/D.

JAS 39 Gripen E Flight Demonstration
JAS 39 Gripen E Flight Demonstration

Gripen’s first export bid was to Finland, where it competed against F-16, F/A-18, MiG-29 and Mirage 2000 to replace Finnish Air Force’s J 35 Draken and MiG-21 fleet. In May 1992, McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 was announced as a winner on performance and cost grounds. The Finnish Minister of Defence, Elisabeth Rehn stated that delays in Gripen’s development schedule had hurt its chances in the competition.

In June 2015, a working group set up by the Finnish MoD proposed starting the HX program to replace the Finnish Air Force’s current fleet of F/A-18 Hornets. The group recognises five potential types: Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, Dassault Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon, Lockheed Martin F-35, and Saab JAS Gripen.

Unit Cost

  • Saab JAS 39 Gripen E – $43 million (flyaway cost, no support)
  • Dassault Rafale C – $62.1million (flyaway cost, no support)
  • Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet – $65.3 million (flyaway cost, no support)
  • Lockheed Martin F-35C – $116 million (flyaway cost, no support)
  • Eurofighter Typhoon, Tranche 3A – $161 million (flyaway cost, no support).

The Saab JAS 39 Gripen E (NG) clearly represents the best value for money, and presents an exceptional capability per unit cost.

Flygvapnet JAS 39 Gripen F
Flygvapnet JAS 39 Gripen F

In December 2015 the Finnish MoD sent a letter to Great Britain, France, Sweden and the United States informing them that the fighter project had been launched in the Defence Forces. The goal of the project is to replace the Hornet fleet, which will be decommissioned as of 2025, with multi-role fighters. The project has been named the HX Fighter Program. The JAS-39 is mentioned in the letter as a potential fighter for the program. The request for information concerning the HX Fighter Program was sent in April 2016. A call for tender will be sent in spring 2018 and the buying decision is scheduled to take place in 2021.

Variants

  • JAS 39A: initial version that entered service with the Swedish Air Force in 1996. A number have been upgraded to the C standard.
  • JAS 39B: two-seat version of the 39A for training, specialised missions and type conversion. To fit the second crew member and life support systems, the internal cannon and an internal fuel tank were removed and the airframe lengthened 0.66 m (2 ft 2 in).
  • JAS 39C: NATO-compatible version of Gripen with extended capabilities in terms of armament, electronics, etc. Can be refuelled in flight.
  • JAS 39D: two-seat version of the 39C, with similar alterations as the 39B.
  • Gripen NG: improved version following on from the Gripen Demo technology demonstrator. Changes from the JAS 39C/D include the more powerful F414G engine, Raven ES-05 AESA radar, increased fuel capacity and payload, two additional hardpoints, and other improvements. These improvements have reportedly increased the Gripen NG costs to an estimated US$27,000 per hour, with a flyaway cost of US$43 million.
  • JAS 39E: single-seat production version developed from the Gripen NG program. Sweden has ordered the variant, with Brazil and, originally, Switzerland to place orders.
  • JAS 39F: two-seat version of the E variant. Eight ordered by Brazil, to be developed and assembled there; planned for pilot training and combat, being optimised for back seat air battle management, with jamming, information warfare and network attack, besides weapon system officer and electronic warfare roles.

Proposals

  • Sea Gripen: proposed carrier-based version based on the Gripen NG. As of 2011, its development was underway. As of 2013,Brazil and India were interested.
  • Gripen UCAV: proposed unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) variant of the Gripen E.
  • Gripen EW: proposed electronic war (EW) ‘Growler’ variant of the Gripen F.

Specifications (JAS 39C/D Gripen)

Saab Logo

Gripen E Specifications
(click to enlarge)

General characteristics

  • Crew: 1 (2 for JAS 39D)
  • Payload: 5,300 kg (11,700 lb)
  • Length: 14.1 m (46 ft 3 in); two-seater: 14.8 m (48 ft 5 in)
  • Wingspan: 8.4 m (27 ft 7 in)
  • Height: 4.5 m (14 ft 9 in)
  • Wing area: 30.0 m² (323 ft²)
  • Empty weight: 6,800 kg (14,990 lb)
  • Loaded weight: 8,500 kg (18,700 lb)
  • Max. takeoff weight: 14,000 kg (31,000 lb)
  • Powerplant: 1 × Volvo RM12 afterburning turbofan
    • Dry thrust: 54 kN (12,100 lbf)
    • Thrust with afterburner: 80.5 kN (18,100 lbf)
  • Wheel track: 2.4 m (7 ft 10 in)

Performance

  • Maximum speed: Mach 2 (2,204 km/h (1,190 kn; 1,370 mph)) at high altitude
  • Combat radius: 800 km (497 mi, 432 nmi)
  • Ferry range: 3,200 km (1,983 mi) with drop tanks
  • Service Ceiling: 15,240 m (50,000 ft)
  • Wing Loading: 283 kg/m² (58 lb/ft²)
  • Thrust/weight: 0.97
  • Maximum g-load: +9 g

Armament

  • Guns: 1× 27 mm Mauser BK-27 Revolver cannon with 120 rounds (single-seat models only)
  • Hardpoints: 8 (three on each wing and two under fuselage)  and provisions to carry combinations of:
    • Rockets: 4× rocket pods, 13.5 cm rockets
    • Missiles:
      • 6× AIM-9 Sidewinder (Rb.74) or IRIS-T (Rb 98) or A-Darter
      • 4× AIM-120 AMRAAM (Rb.99) or MICA
      • 4× Meteor (under development)
      • 4× AGM-65 Maverick (Rb.75)
      • 2× KEPD.350
      • 2× Rbs.15F anti-ship missile
    • Bombs:
      • 4× GBU-12 Paveway II laser-guided bomb
      • 2× Bk.90 cluster bomb
      • 8× Mark 82 bombs.

Saab Gripen Specifications

References

  • “Top Stories So Far: Some Things You Ought to Know About Gripen NG”, Gripen, the wings of your nation (official World Wide Web log), Saab, 16 Jul 2015, retrieved 2015-07-16, A two-seater version of Gripen NG is in development and will be used for both pilot training and combat missions. For the combat role, this version will be optimised to enable air battle management from the back seat, including jamming, information warfare and network attack capabilities. Weapon System Officer (WSO) and EW roles can also be facilitated from this position.
  • “World Air Forces 2016 pg. 21”. Flightglobal Insight. 2015. Retrieved 25 January 2016.
  • Flanagan, Louise (4 September 2013), “SAAF jets aren’t in storage, says general”, IOL (ZA) .
  • Hoyle, Craig (7 September 2007). “Gripen enhancements escape Swedish cutbacks”. Flightglobal. Reed. Archived from the original on 17 December 2013. Retrieved 17 December 2013.
  • “Saab signs new agreement with UK’s test pilots’ school” (Press release). Saab. 15 February 2008. Archived from the original on 22 July 2012. Retrieved 3 November 2013.

13 thoughts on “The SAAB JAS 39 Gripen E (NG), The Future Fighter for Finland?”

  1. Proof that some things come in smaller packages. The Gripen is probably the most netcentric aircraft in the world at the moment because it was designed from the outset to be part of a bigger defence picture. I think once the F-35 matures in service it will supplant the Gripen but until then the little jet remains the techno-king.

    It is also a true successor to the Draken – one of my favourite aircraft of all time. I honestly thought Austria would replace their Drakens with Gripen. When they ordered Typhoon I was stunned.

    1. In a sense I agree. However, unlike the light fighters of the 70/80s, the Gripen Ng can take on the Su-35. Look at the stats. We love to say that the Typhoon is a great aircraft, but it has failed in so many respects over 20 years of development. Apart from the F-22, which is so over priced, (187 operational aircraft)t – which, although have been used in a iimited way, out of theatre), The Gripen E is a useful aeroplane. As good as the Typhoon – half the price, far cheaper and far bettet than the Super-Hornet – What’s the argument??

    1. Tony, the Typhoon is in no way a failure. It is an extremely competent aircraft, the best in the world today. My a argument is that Finland would do well to buy the Gripen E, given its low cost and it’s exceptional combat performance, they couldn’t do much worse than purchase a Bae/Saab system that works very well. The Typhoon is a terrific aircraft, and performs well out ot of the parameters thatb anyoneepected, However,, I believe that the Gripen E, would be the best choice for the Suomen Ilmaviomat,

      1. I agree that in terms of pure defence purposes the Gripen would be the ideal choice. It is less expensive than Typhoon for a start and as I mentioned is designed to operate in a netcentric environment that is ideally suited to a defence scenario. Typhoon on the other hand better suits the RAF since the RAF are expected to deploy for operations over hostile territory in a (dare I say it) offensive scenario where range and firepower requirements are greater.

  2. It certainly is a world beater and will affect sales of the Typhoon. If certainly looks (technically not aesthetically) better and with the capability to accept virtually every weapon in use today, it is a world class aircraft. Forethought certainly paid off on this one!

    1. I agree. One wonders if they had developed a carrier-based version sooner (given that it is a Saab-Bae enterprise), whether we would have the Gripen E on the Prince of Wales instead of the F-35.

  3. I agree Tony, your point is well made. The Finns are a nation of approximately 5 million people, and their politics dictate that they have a limited overseas operational mandate. The Gripen E would be ideal for point defence and Baltic area protection. Also, it’s ability to engage sea-surface targets is a great asset. Thanks for your valuable insight as always, Rich.

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