What the JAS Gripen can do

MEDIA reports last year quoted the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) chief as saying negotiations with Swedish aircraft manufacturer Försvarets Materielverk (FMV) were underway for the acquisition of between eight and 12 JAS Gripen “C” and “D” aircraft variants to replace its ageing fleet of US-made F-5 fighter jets.    

BDF commander, Lieutenant-General Gaolathe Galebotswe, said this when he appeared before the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee to give evidence on defence spending and the state of the equipment at the disposal of the force.

Galebotswe said in its quest for a replacement to the aging F-5 fleet that the BDF visited aircraft manufacturers in the US, Russia and China before settling on the JAS Gripen.

“The Gripen fits our requirements and could give us a certain edge over our competitors. F-5s have become unsustainable for the BDF. We needed something that is cost-effective but still capable of carrying out our aerial defence mandate because we should have the capability to operate in both contested and uncontested space. I am talking about revitalising BDF,” Galebotswe said.

“The current F-5 planes once gave us the essential reach in terms of air defence capabilities. In looking for a replacement, we considered the (US-made) F-16, Russian MiG variants, the (JAS) Gripen and some Chinese jets. The Gripen was found to have the lowest operating costs,” he said.

The cost of the possible contract between the BDF and FMV was estimated at US$1.7 billion. According to Galebotswe, there were no middlemen involved in the ongoing negotiations between the governments of Botswana and Sweden.

According to Galebotswe, Botswana was living in a VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) environment where the military had to be equipped and ready to defend the country at all times.

The JAS-39 Gripen is an excellent low cost fourth-generation fighter. Originally developed in Sweden in the 1980s — part of that nation’s efforts at maintaining a neutral foreign policy stance — the Nordic machine is designed to be relatively cheap, easy to maintain and fight off any potential aggressor.

Those traits have made the Gripen an attractive prospect for many nations including Brazil, South Africa, Czech Republic, Hungary and Thailand. More countries — deterred by the outrageous price tags of rival machines — are likely to jump on board the Gripen bandwagon as more advanced derivatives of the Swedish jet enter production.

The Gripen also has comprehensive networking capabilities. The new Gripen’s maximum take-off weight is increased to more than 36,000lbs up from around 31,000lbs for the C/D variant.

Most of the added gross weight comes from a more than forty percent increase in internal fuel capacity. The jet is also equipped with two additional hardpoints to increase its payload. The aircraft is also slightly longer and has a larger wingspan. As a result of the increased size and weight, the Swedes have adopted the Super Hornet’s F414 engine — but have elected not to license manufacture it as they have done in the past. Performance is spritely — a lightly loaded Gripen NG will hold Mach 1.2 without the afterburner engaged.

The Gripen is a multirole fighter aircraft, intended to be a lightweight and agile aerial platform incorporating advanced, highly adaptable avionics. It has canard control surfaces which contributes a positive lift force at all speeds, while the generous lift from the delta wing compensates for the rear stabiliser producing negative lift at high speeds, increasing induced drag. Being intentionally unstable and employing digital fly-by-wire flight controls to maintain stability removes many flight restrictions, improves manoeuvrability, and reduces drag.

Equipment and armaments

The Gripen is compatible with a number of different armaments, beyond the aircraft’s single 27 mm Mauser BK-27 cannon, 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.

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.

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 optimised 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 refuelling probe and on-board oxygen generation system, was integrated upon the Gripen C/D. – Defense News/Business Weekly/Wikipedia

April 2017
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