We looked into the aspects of the Russian contender, the MiG-35. Now, we can take a closer look at the Swedish contender, the Saab Gripen-E.
Contender 2 – The Saab JAS-39 ‘Gripen-E’
The Gripen-C/D was a contender for the MMRCA 1.0 but it didn’t satisfy the IAF because of its heavy reliance on the US made electronics and weaponry. The engine too was a rip-off of the GE-F404 made by Volvo Aero. There was no doubt about the aircraft’s performance but the logistical complexities involving the US and possible disapproval by the US to sell the engine to India was the main causes that never made it fly for IAF.
However, this time Saab is more than prepared. They are now offering the most advanced variant of the Gripen, the Gripen-E/F and there’s more. It comes with a complete ToT (Transfer of Technology) if selected.
- Length: 15.2 m (49 ft 10 in)
- Wingspan: 8.6m (28 ft 3 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: 16,500 kg (31,000 lb)
- Power-plant: The ‘Gripen-E/F’ is the one of only two single-engined fighter aircraft vying for the MMRCA 2.0 of IAF. This definitely puts the Gripen in an uncomfortable position since there has been some voice over the procurement of single-engined fighters. Twin-engined fighters are more safe and reliant since with even one engine failing the aircraft can safely land back with the other.
That aside, the JAS-39 ‘Gripen-E/F’ is powered by a completely new engine. It is now powered by a GE F414G engine which churns out 22,000lb/98kN of thrust. The Gripen-C/D used the Volvo RM12 afterburner which is essentially a GE F404 engine with a thrust of 12,000lb/54kN. The new engine features a new high-pressure turbine and a new six-stage, high-pressure compressor which gives the aircraft supercruising ( to go supersonic without afterburners) capability.
Max Speed: Mach 2
Combat Radius: 1300km ( with 4x Radio seeking AA, 2x IR seeking AA and 1x external fuel tank)
Ferry Range: 2500km (without in-flight refuelling, on internal), 4075km (without in-flight refuelling, on internal + external)
Service ceiling: >52,500km
Maximum g-load: -3g/+9g
- Air-Frame Mods: The new Gripen-E has major structural changes done to its airframe. It includes new main landing gear, internal fuel store has been increased. The hardpoints are now increased to 9 (3x Under fuselage, 4x Underwing, 2x Wingtip) +1x for ECM/Targetting pod and increased payload capability of 7,000 kg. Its internal fuel capacity is increased by 40 per cent to 3,400 kg.
The outer wings are now attached farther out (at pylon three) to make room for fuel tanks, and new aluminium-lithium integral frames provided for the wing attachments. The main gear now retracts into the wing now, rather than the fuselage. There are larger engine air intakes and a new secondary environmental control system (ECS) for the powerful AESA radar at the bottom of the fin leading edge.
A revised wingtip design accommodates new electronic warfare antennas. This really puts the Gripen-E/F in a very strong place as opposed to its predecessor. Another key mod is, the nose gear is now single wheeled which allows for arrestor cable landing.
- Radar: The Gripen-E/F is equipped with Selex’s ES-05 ‘Raven’ AESA radar system, but there’s a twist. Unlike any other AESA system, Raven radar is fitted on a swashplate at the nose of the aircraft, the radar provides an angular field of view of 100° and look-behind capability. Typical AESA radars are repositioned virtually but in Raven, a repositioner allows for physical steering giving in effect +/- 100-degree scan angle.
In a BVR aerial combat, the Gripen can simply lock on the target and fire the missile and turn away without having to compromise the radar data link with the missile. The swish plate repositions the radar and continues to track the target and engages it. This is impossible for a fixed plate AESA radar. The radar is known to have a range of 222km with multiple scanning modes for Air-Air, Air-Surface combats.
IRST—Almost all 4++ generation fighters are now busy integrating IRSTs. This comes in light due to the emergence of better stealth planes which could be nearly impossible to track at BVR. The Gripen-E/F is fitted with a Selex Skyward-G IRST module with a range of 185.2km. Another looking down pod can be equipped in one one of the hardpoints for Air-Surface targetting.
Electronic Warfare Sytems—The Gripen-E/F is fitted with an advanced EW suite capable consisting of Saab EDS and MFS-EW Suite. It uses three types of signal generators to obscure the existence of the aircraft or cause confusion about its location and/or existence so that an adversary cannot choose a proper firing solution. The three types of signal generators are Digital Radio Frequency Memory (DRFM), Doppler, and Noise. DRFM emulates the signal of the radar that makes contact with the aircraft and then mirrors it back so that it appears to the operator on the other side that the radar has encountered nothing.
Countermeasures—The new Gripen-E/F packs more chaff and flare than the older one. The Gripen-E/F will also be fitted with Britecloud Expendable Active Decoy (EAD) as an electronic warfare option.
The Gripen-E will also feature a Wide Area Display (WAD) which gives the pilot a better situational awareness and the bridges the gap between the inputs of the pilot and the fighter handling. Advanced Helmet Mounted Display (HMD) and Hands-On-Throttle-And-Stick (HOTAS) which provides superior situational awareness for the pilot.
Other Pods: Rafael Litening III Pod, Saab Modular Reconnaissance Pod System (MRPS), Thales Digital Joint Reconnaissance Pod (DJRP), Vicon18/72C, Reccelite.
- Weapons: The Gripen-E/F is compatible with almost all major western standard weapons.
Air-Air: AIM-9X Sidewinder, AIM-132 AS-RAAM, Python 4/5, A-Darter, IRIS-T, AIM-120 AMRAAM, R-Darter, Derby, Meteor.
Air-Ground: Mk82/83/84 General Purpose Bombs, Paveway II (GBU-10/12/16), Pave-way III (GBU-22/24), Lizard II/III Laser-guided Bombs, JDAM (GBU-31/32/38) GPS-guided bombs, Spice EO/GPS-guided bombsAGM-65 Maverick, Brimstone, Enhanced Paveway II (GBU-49) GPS/INS/Laser-guided bombs, JSOW (AGM-154), SDB-I (GBU-39),Taurus KEPD 350, RBS15, RBS15F ER Anti-ship Missiles.
Cannon: Mauser BK27 27mm cannon
One major thing we have to look into the Gripen-E/F is whether they will allow integration of Russian missiles and bombs into the weapon suite of Gripen. It’s not possible in real future for IAF to stop relying on Russian missiles and hence it could pose a problem if Gripen is elected. Many of the systems are outsourced from the Western companies and any threat of leak could elevate the complexity of the process. We don’t know how it will turn out if the Swedes really offer complete ToT.
In short, the Gripen-E/F is hands down the best single engine fighter there is. It is the perfect mix of all systems a potent fighter should have. The system can really take into the skies as a fighter capable of safeguarding a nation’s air-space without fear. The inherent complexity is in our geopolitical situations. Our heavy reliance on Russian weapons could possibly pose a problem if the Gripen is selected.