Saab positions Gripen E as Canada’s next-generation fighter

Saab Group is confident that its single-engine Gripen E remains a viable contender for Canada’s next generation fighter aircraft fleet, even though there are currently no immediate plans for Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) pilots to actually fly the aircraft.

The Saab JAS 39 Gripen is one of only two single-engine fighters in the Canadian competition. Lockheed Martin’s F-35 is the other. Saab Photo

This was according to Richard Smith, head of Gripen marketing and sales during a May 16 briefing on Gripen market opportunities worldwide.

He confirmed the planned visits included “site surveys and also some more senior visits as well, but at the moment, no plans for a flight evaluation.”

He offered no details on who specifically would be visiting, but welcomed a suggestion that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau could be on the list.

Canada is one of a number of countries Saab is targeting as a customer for the Mach 2 delta wing/canard fighter, the first variation of which entered service with the Swedish Air Force in 1997.

Development of the Gripen E, featuring a General Electric F414G engine and an upgraded electronic warfare system (EWS), began about 2014 and it was first flown in June 2017. It is now said to be on track for delivery to the Swedish and Brazilian air forces.

Smith said he expected that “continued dialogue so far this year” with Canadian government representatives was setting the stage for an early draft proposal, possibly in the third quarter of 2018, followed by the government’s request for proposal for 80 aircraft early next year.

He said the Gripen is suitable for all RCAF operations, including the high north, the Arctic and forward operating bases, which he said are “very similar to what we have in Sweden.”

He later added that Saab would “tailor” its offering to Canada, as it would to other prospective customers with different operating environments.

“Value for money, the industrial packages, that’s what makes the Gripen rather unique and rather attractive.”

On the seminal Canadian question about the reliability of a single-engine aircraft in Arctic and maritime missions, Gripen test pilot Mikhal Olsson said it had never been an issue.

“I’ve been flying fighter aircraft since 1996 and I’ve been stationed . . . up in the Arctic,” he said.

“I’ve been flying over the Atlantic, I’ve been flying across the sea eastbound to India (Saab is proposing the Gripen for the India Air Force), and every time I’ve been in a single-engine jet. I’ve never, ever, been worried about the engine [due to built-in redundancies]. “We have a really reliable system.”

Olsson also said that as a “smart fighter” with net-centric technologies, a new sensor suite and long-range weapons, the E model is tailored to an “much more hostile and . . . much more unpredictable” operational environment where “new conflicts arise and disappear much quicker that we’ve seen before.”

Gripen EWS sales director Inga Bergstrom added that electronic warfare was not the aircraft’s primary function.

Rather, EWS was “an enabler to . . . a successful mission” and because it was upgradeable software, it could deal with evolving threats.

Asked about having to compete in some markets with used aircraft, Smith said these were, at best, an interim solution.


“We’re going to operate it for 30 to 40 years,” he replied. “Second-hand fighters . . . need to be replaced after maybe 10 years, and the capability that we bring is somewhat different to those old fighters. . . . Even though there has been, as you say, some headwind recently, I remain very optimistic about the outlook for Gripen both short term and longer term.”

Jonas Hjelm, head of Aeronautics at Saab, acknowledged that although the company can’t compete with used fighters because of the price difference, he agreed that the upgradeable Gripen could be operated for potentially more than 40 years without having to go through a new acquisition process, so the total package “makes sense for very many of the countries that are now in process of actually selecting a new fighter system.”

Asked how the Gripen could compete with “stealth” platforms, Hjelm declined comment on competitors’ aircraft but conceded that it was a difficult challenge.

Calling stealth a “fashion word,” he said that while the newest Gripen variants have “stealth features,” Saab has chosen “different paths to have a low signature.”

Besides, with “every smart technique you come up with to defend yourself, there will be a pushback from the other side to detect you . . . . We continue all the time to see what we can develop . . . to become more invisible.”

12 thoughts on “Saab positions Gripen E as Canada’s next-generation fighter

  1. Hmmm. I’ve loved the Gripen for years (I think it’s an amazing aircraft) but also think stealth is the game changer… Just ask India or Japan what they think.

    1. Stealth is looking more and more like a transient technology. With many nations investing in new radar tech and IRST, radar stealth will soon cease to be the silver bullet it was advertised to be. Why do you think F-22 production was stopped at less then 200?

  2. Love it when someone gives factual details and also explain that stealth features will cause push backs from the opposition . A constant challenge he said , not a guarantee of unbeatable technology . This Saab EF is a super plane for Canada as it will surely be possible to assemble and possibility even manufacture a few parts , say the landing gear etc . This may give ongoing jobs for Canadians especially if other South American countries become customers . These planes can also land on roadways if necessary and the 414 engine is very reliable !.

  3. The Saab Gripen E has all of the requirements for our NORAD roles. Hope to see further engagement such as air show displays and information. The article is a clear headed reply to Canada’s needs.

  4. Good to know we are looking elsewhere than the usual. Sweden and other countries have proven they can build aircraft just as well as any one. Buy Swedish Canada!

  5. The best fighter is the one that’s in the air. Low unit, flight, and maintenance costs, quick maintenance turnaround time, and the ability to use highways as secondary operating bases keep this one on the job. This is the plane we need.

  6. What a refreshing idea. This looks like a very good choice considering the capability and the overall costs. This Company has been known for years as a quality builder and has produced products that are durable and worthy of consideration. An expensive exercise so choosing the right plane is essential and having it last long is good too.

  7. I firmly believe that by acquiring 100 Gripen E’ along with about 4o F35′ when the 35 has matured sufficiently to have all of its current kinks to be ironed out.
    This would give the RCAF a tremendous amount of flexibility and capability to confidently enter into any situation with the ability to complete their assigned mission but also to get back to base in one piece. At less than 70 million per tail and the lowest operational cost of any fighter of its class its a real winner. Lastly the benefits of having a Canadian aerospace industry would bring massive jobs to Canada.

  8. Fact of the matter is we need to have the latest stealth capable platforms wether you like it or not.With the latest generation of Russian built AA missile systems like the S400 a Gripen or similar aircraft will not survive.I agree with the idea of equipping one or two squadrons with the F 35 and augmenting them with 100 – 120 Gripens or similar aircraft.

  9. The problem is you are all missing the ”greater issue”…… It isn’t about the qualities of the aircraft, it’s about the offsets in money that will be the greatest influence; I love that fighter too, it is a much more sensible solution, but when was the last time you saw a ”sensible” government? So, the actual situation ( it may change rapidly), there is a ”cooling” in U.S. and Canada relations; there was this obscure deal for the C series between Airbus and Bombardier; there is now this U.K. firm in charge of structuring the RCAF needs for the final procurement official copy; then, there is Brexit, which, if there is no deal, could leave the U.K. in search of transactions; BAE needs money these days;….So, if nothing else, the Eurofighter could be a more than third rate contender; but again, will the Boeing- Canada relations stay coolish? one thing I read is Boeing isn’t putting all its chips on this one, probably being a bit skittish with the offsets; But, in the end, all this can change in one day…..So, the jury is out……

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