Friday, June 24, 2011

Evolving Gripen

The Gripen NG - Next Generation has been flying for a few years as a technology demonstrator at Saab aircraft factory in Linköping. It has been offered to Norway and is also taking part in the bidding process in India (Gripen is today out of the bidding process togehter with F-18E/F, F-16IN and Mig-35) and Brazil.

However, in Sweden the politicians and the commander of the armed forces has difficulties to decide if they want to upgrade their existing fleet of Gripen A/B/C/D to E/F-standard or if they just want to upgrade them to C/D+ standards, without the modification of the airframe to be able to use the bigger F414-engine, carry more internal fuel and add two extra weapon pylons on the fuselage.

Many Swedish politicians does not want to buy more aircraft. They think that buying 204 aircraft for the Air Force and then reducing them to the now planned 100 Gripen C/D was a big mistake.

What the politicians do not understand is that if operational life of the Gripen aircraft is going to extended to the planned year 2040, there will be need of heavy modifications to the aircraft. Not only to meet future threats, but also to have spare parts to the electronic equipment in the aircraft. The Gripen system computer has already been upgraded three times with more modern electronics. The Gripen NG demonstrator has a complete new set of avionics that sooner or later need to be used also by the Gripen C/D aircraft. Not only to get extra capability, but also because there will be no other options to get spare parts for the old computers.

What the Swedish politicians has to study is the cost difference between rebuilding the existing C/D-fleet with just new avionics or also rebuilding them with a new airframe in the same way as 31 Gripen A/B has been converted to C/D-standard by rebuilding the fuselage and then adding wings, fin, engine and avionics from the old A/B-aircraft. There is still discussions if there is need of the bigger fuselage in order to carry the Selex/Galileo AESA-radar. If the smaller C/D-airframe is used, the Gripen must use a smaller radar disc, which add extra cost instead of just cooperating with the Eurofighter development program.

There are also big question marks regarding the possibilities for Volvo to build a updated RM12+ with more thrust. Will this be possible within the existing license agreement that Volvo has with General Electric? Unfortunately, Volvo has been lobbying heavily for using the RM12+ instead of the F414. This can be one of the major reasons for the Swedish politicians hesitations. If there is a possibility to get more thrust out of the existing engine, why buy a new fuselage only to cope with the bigger F414? What they miss is the fact that more thrust also result in the need for more fuel. More fuel also need a bigger engine in order to keep the aircraft performance. Otherwise the thrust-to-weight ratio will be too low. An aircraft need to be kept in balance. Weapons need to be balanced with sensors, engine with weight (including extra weapon and fuel) etc, etc.

Saab also need to have specialist personnel employed for heavier maintenance of the aircraft even if no new aircraft are built at the Linköping aircraft manufacturing plant. This in order to support the Swedish Air Force and other customers with heavier repairs on the aircraft after accidents. This due to the fact that this capability is not available on normal fighter wings. To keep this personnel trained it can be more effective to build extra fuselages for the modification of Gripen C/D to Gripen E/F in the same way as being done today with the modification from Gripen A/B to Gripen C/D.

The Swedish politicians must understand that there will be no new aircraft being built for the Swedish Air Force, just the existing 100 aircraft kept up to standards with the threat development and the development in technology.

No comments:

Post a Comment