Recently, the President and CEO of the famous Swedish company Micael Johansson told journalists in the Scandinavian country about his “disappointment” regarding the fighter jet’s failure to attract buyers other than Sweden and Brazil. The last time Saab successfully sold the Gripen was eight years ago.
People familiar with fighters should know that Sweden’s Saab has a very strong self-development capability, and its most well-known representative product is the currently well-known Gripen series fighter. And recently Saab has been worried about the future sales of Gripen fighters because, since the signing of the purchase of Gripen EF fighters with Brazil in 2014, there has been no substantial progress in the sales of Gripen fighters for a full 8 years. Saab personnel began complaining that political interference had prevented their aircraft from continuing to sell. So let’s take a look at why this well-known and very good fighter has gradually lost its sales market.
In terms of the fighter’s performance and capabilities, Johansson said, there is nothing that differentiates the Gripen from comparable fighter planes. The Gripen fighter is in the light fighter category, slightly below other fighters such as the F-16 and Rafale.
Although the Gripen fighter has a more advanced aerodynamic layout and is small and flexible overall, the most critical thing is that many of its key technologies, such as engines and some weapon systems, as well as the most important flight control systems come from the United States. So without the Unites States of America’s help, the Gripen fighter could not overcome the congenital problems caused by the front-mounted canard wing aerodynamic layout and even fell several planes. With the help of the Americans, the Development and Equipment Speed of the Gripen Fighter improved, and eventually became the world’s first 3.5th generation fighter to equip the troops.
The Gripen fighter has several advantages, excellent air combat capabilities, relatively low maintenance and use costs, and good improvement potential, and the Swedens do not have too many requirements for cooperative production and technology transfer. First of all, Gripen uses a Duck layout, and its own weight is very light, coupled with the supporting weapon system is world-class, so its air combat capabilities in the same type of fighter is the mainstream level, at least in the face of the early 3rd generation fighter has a clear advantage.
Second, Sweden is a small country, so at the earliest development, more emphasis was placed on the ability to use road take-offs and landings and to reduce maintenance costs as much as possible. Therefore, the cost of this aircraft per hour is significantly lower than that of other fighters of the same type, which means that if small and medium-sized countries buy such aircraft, there is no need to worry too much about the cost of use.
Third, due to the delta wing layout adopted by the Gripen, it is not backward, as long as the radar avionics system and weapon system, and the engine can be improved, then the Gripen fighter can continue to move forward in the direction of the Rafale fighter, and can become a fairly good light fighter.
Finally, Sweden is well aware of its weaknesses, so in the process of selling Gripen fighters abroad, it often transfers technology to produce in other countries to reduce the cost of production and even provides Gripen fighters to other countries in the form of leasing, such as the Czech Republic in Europe.
The reason why the sales prospects of Gripen fighters are becoming more and more uncertain are simply summarized for three reasons, the first is that their performance is limited, and the performance of competitors has improved significantly. Second, the plane was indeed politically influenced. Third, the advanced 5th generation stealth fighter has begun to become popular, and the Gripen is indeed gradually lagging behind.
Although Gripen is called one of the earliest fighters of the same type, which means that its own performance is relatively limited, and the Later Typhoon, Rafale, and J-10 fighters also use the duck layout, but the improvement potential of these three fighters and the current combat effectiveness are far stronger than the Gripen fighter, which is beyond doubt. Not only that, but the improved version of the 3rd generation fighter, the new model now known as the 4th generation fighter, also more or less surpassed the improved EF model of the Gripen. For example, Russia’s Su-35 and China’s J-16, USA F-16V, F-15EX, and even the super Hornet on the aircraft carrier is constantly improving. These improved 4th-generation fighters are also essentially advanced 4.5th generation fighters and are not qualitatively different from fighters such as the Gripen and Typhoon, Rafale. In addition, the unit price of Gripen is not low, and consumers can be excused for choosing other aircraft.
Second, recently Poland has decided to use FA-50 fighters from South Korea to replace the old MiG-29 fighters, of course, many people say that Poland’s approach is really ridiculous, as a European country, Europe has a lot of fighters to buy, why buy FA-50s that use almost entirely American technology? Sweden’s Gripen fighter jet, although also using American technology, is much smaller than the FA-50. Because of the participation of the United States, many countries that originally intended to buy Gripen fighters chose to make concessions, not only The Gripen but also the historical Saab 37 because of the large-scale entry of the F-16 into Europe, so that none of the aircraft was successfully exported.
Sweden, on the other hand, has no way to do anything about the United States, and who allows its fighter jets to use technology from the United States to be restricted by the United States? On the contrary, the other three fighters that also use canard wings, whether it is the Rafale, Typhoon, or China’s J-10 are completely independent aircraft and have nothing to do with the United States.
Finally, the U.S. is now sparing no effort to market its F-35A fighter jet, which is far stronger than the Gripen fighter in every way and poses a powerful threat to fighters such as the Typhoon and Rafale. Russia has also developing a Su-75 fighter jet intended to target the export market, China is developing a new foreign export fighter based on the FC-31 verification aircraft, and even India has also developed Tejas light fighter which is popular in Southeast Asia and cheaper than Gripen. For many countries interested in developing the military, the significance of buying these new stealth fighters is obviously greater than the current 4th and a half generation fighters, and it is also the long-term plan.
Whether Sweden is a self-developed 5th generation fighter or a 5th generation fighter that cooperates with other countries, it has no bright future, and all it can do at present is to market its Gripen EF fighter as much as possible. So there may be only one way out, and that is to reduce the price of the Gripen fighter.
Apparently, the main “enemy” of the Gripen and Saab Group fighter aircraft is the F-35 developed by Lockheed Martin which has “knocked out” almost all the competition to supply new aircraft in Europe at this point.
Even other Scandinavian countries that are Sweden’s neighbors such as Finland and Norway also looked at the bid by Saab and the Gripen aircraft and chose the F-35 made in the United States.