Monday, December 12, 2011

Sweden = Switzerland

A lot of people around the world (mostly in the big country on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean) has big problems in knowing the difference between Sweden and Switzerland. Well, to be honest, it is easy to mix the two countries up.

Both are democratic, neutral countries that avoided both the first and the second world war. Both are outside of NATO (even though Sweden is getting closer and closer and Switzerland takes part in NATO PfP).

During the Cold War, Switzerland was a buffer zone between East and West, much in the same way as Sweden. As a result Switzerland together with Sweden still are considered to be neutral enough to supervise the armistice line between North and South Korea.

But there are also differences.

Switzerland is not an member of EU and therefore does not take part in the plans for a common European defence. Sweden on the other hand is very active in EU since the lack of a NATO-membership has resulted in the need to seek protection from another organisation. Much in the same way as Finland and Ireland, Sweden is instead very active in the EU Battlegroup koncept.

Switzerland is a new member of the UN (Sweden has since Dag Hammarskjöld been very close to the UN), but has like Sweden taken part in peace keeping operations. So far Switzerland has stayed out of peace enforcing operations such as Afghanistan or Libya. Sweden on the other side is planning to use its professional corps in a more aggressive way in the future. Libya might just be the start of it.

Switzerland has build its defence capability on a large conscript force numbering some 600.000 men. Sweden has recently changed its armed forces structure from a conscript system of about 800.000 men to a professional soldier force of full and part-time soldiers together with full time officers and NCO. There are some ideas about doing the same in Switzerland, but I think it will take a long time to switch the system since it has been a part of the Swiss tradition for many years. On the other hand, never say never. It took the Swedish government just a few years to change the system in Sweden. Only the future will show if it is successful or not.

Now the close connection between Sweden and Switzerland are about to get even closer. Switzerland has announced that Sweden and Saab is the favourite in the process of buing the replacement aircraft for the F-5 Tiger. 22 aircraft is planned. No contract has been signed yet and it is not even clear if it is the C/D-version of the Gripen or the future E/F-version.

Why Gripen? How could Gripen beat the Rafale (Switzerland has close ties to France) or the Eurofighter? The Rafale and the Eurofighter are both twin-engine aircraft with a lot of power and a capability to carry a lot of ordnance.

The minister of defence in Switzerland, Mr Ueli Maurer stated that Gripen was maybe not the best aircraft, but that it was good enough for Switzerland and the price was about 33% less than the competitors. The maintenance cost per flight hour is about 1/10 of that of Rafale or Eurofighter.

But the low prize and high bang-per-buck factor might not be all.

Switzerland might get more cooperation from Sweden than from France or UK. There will most likely be a lot of industrial cooperation or off-set affairs. I would guess that the assembly of the aircraft will be done in Switzerland. Companies like Ruag and Zeiss will be sub-contractors. There are also rumors about Sweden buying Pilatus PC-21 as the future lead-in trainer for the Swedish Air Force to replace the ageing Saab 105 (SK 60) fleet. Since Saab is providing training by the hour to the Air Force this might be a very fast transition into new aircraft without the need of Swedish Government approval or a need to follow EU regulations regarding keeping the bidding process open for everyone.

Gripen is also ideal for the Swiss tactics.

The A/B-version of the Gripen was designed for specific Swedish tactics. The C/D-version has been re-designed for NATO-tactics with among other things Link-16, Have Quick, Air-to-Air refueling etc.

Since Switzerland is not an NATO-member, the later capability might not be on top of the wish-list. Surprisingly the previous capability might be so.

Switzerland has a tactic of using road-bases for aircraft operations in war-time. It is a tactic that was developed by German Luftwaffe during WWII when the fixed airbases was bombed and instead the Autobahn was used for aircraft operations. The Gripen is designed in a similar way to take-off and land on 800 m short strips that was part of the Swedish dispersed base system BAS-90.

The F-5 is today mainly used by the Swiss Air Force Reserve. Pilots and maintenance personnel that on a day-to-day basis work in civilian airline companies but during parts of the year fly and operate the F-5. The Gripen is designed to be very easy to fly and maintain. In the Swedish Air Force the aircraft usually were maintained by conscripts with some 6 months of training. All aircraft equipment have self-diagnostics and can easily be replaced on the flight line. Replacing the engine can be done within a few hours on the flight line or in maintenance tents.

From a training point of view Sweden has one very unique capability. That is the vast and sparsely populated areas in the northern part of Sweden. The training ranges are among the biggest in the world. Here low-level flying can be trained without any complaints from the locals. At the Vidsel firing range all type of AA/AG-weapons can be used (including AIM-120 AMRAAM). Switzerland has previously deployed to Sweden with their Mirage fighters for this type of training. My guess is that Swiss aircraft will be a frequent flyer to Sweden in the future. When Switzerland use the same aircraft as Sweden it will also be much easier since a lot of the needed infrastructure (ground support units, generators, fuel, spare-parts, consumables etc) are already in place at the Vidsel Airbase.

But first of all the contract need to be signed. My guess is that the Dassault and Eurofighter consortium will do their best to interrupt the negotiations. There are talks about a national vote in Switzerland. But this will not be to select a more expensive aircraft instead of Gripen. It will be a choice between buying a new fighter or cutting down on the Swiss Air Force to only F/A-18 and in the future nothing at all. But the Swiss people still remembers WWII when they were very close to be annected by Germany. Therefore I doubt they will cut down on their defences.

Ny Teknik 1, Ny Teknik 2


  1. "At the Vidsel firing range all type of AA/AG-weapons can be used.."

    Sure, with the right aircraft. The Gripen choices are a bit limited... ;-)

    Clever writing though!

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  2. Actually, Gripen got a better selection than Rafale and got a history of successful integration so at the moment it is one of the worlds most versatile aircrafts when it comes to equipment.

  3. So, what are the AG options for Gripen? I fail to see them compareable in any way to the Rafale selection.

  4. Exactly what is already integrated on the Rafale and what is under development is a bit unclear. But the "Rafalenews" blog has some ideas.

    The Gripen has integrated Mk81/82/84 frefalling "dumb" bombs that can be carried on twin stores carriers on four wing pylons (Pylon 2R, 3R, 3L, 2L) on the C/D version.

    GBU 10/12/16/49 laser/GPS guided bombs that can be carried on four wing pylons on the C/D Gripen.

    AGM65G/H laser/IR gudied missiles. Can be carried on four wing pylons on the C/D Gripen.

    The C/D Gripen can carry SPK Recce pod (pylon 5) and Litening LDP or JDRP Recce pod (Pylon 4) on the fuselage.

    BK90 bomblet dispenser. This weapon has however been decided to take out of use due to the international agreement on forbidding usage of cluster bombs.

    Rb15F Anti-ship missile.

    GBU39 SDB is being integrated and will be delivered within a few years.

    These are the weapons that has currently been ordered by different customers. More has been tested and partly integrated, but since no user has decided to buy the weapons the integration work has not been completed.

    Example: The Kepd-150 stand-off missile is a development of the BK-90 dispenser and has been testflown on the Gripen.

    The E/F Gripen adds two more pylons (Pylon 5R, 5L) on the fuselage to carry bombs or missiles. All C/D weapons can be used.

    Very similar AG-weapon capabilities between Gripen and Rafale. The Rafale has one big advantage and that is more trust and can therefore carry more ordnance at the same time. But at a price that the Swiss government wasn´t prepared to pay. Most probably the Rafale will be able to carry nuclear bombs, but I see no future customer of the Gripen that want this weapon ton be integrated!

  5. Gripen seems to lack a real stand off missile.

    "Example: The Kepd-150 stand-off missile is a development of the BK-90 dispenser and has been testflown on the Gripen."

    A mockup was testflown - sadly the KEPD-150 was never developed, and the one 350 variant that was finished is to big for Gripen to handle. What a waste of (swedish) funds to take part of the Taurus project.

    Also RB15F (saved by a small margin by the Thai) is very dated compared to current EXOCET. To bad the SweAF never showed an interest for a modernised F when Germany got the ship launched mk3s.

  6. Använd gärna ett rättstavningsprogram.

  7. Anonymous 4:36: You are absolutely correct. There were to many misspellings in the text. It was a bit late when I wrote the article.

  8. Italy should talk to Switzerland and Sweden. They may consider co-assembling Gripen with swiss RUAG firm also for ItAF use, as their F-35 orders may be cut much more than the newly announced 1/3rd proportion, maybe entirely in the end.

    Italy's twinjet Eurofighters are very costly to fly for fuel and ground crew work. The single-jet F-16 and AMX fleets have been returned / nearing retirement and the JSF is nowhere in sight and will be even more expensive to fly. The lack of affordable, yet capable single-jet warplanes was shown acutely during the war against Gaddhafi.

    Italy has long single-pipe jet tradition (G-91 / F-104) but they are also curious about the Gripen because of the Sea G. option. That could populate the smallish Cavour carrier ship with a slightly modified flight deck (angled STOBAR).

    The F-35B VTOL variant is now 99% sure to cancel entirely and the USMC purchased all the british Harrier spare parts just for themselves. Therefore, in 7 years "Regia Marina" will be down to helos only, if not for the Sea Gripen.

    The Gripen is modular: the original design, the BAE P.1112/1116 had a fuselage sized for the Eurojet turbine, as a "STOL Mini Eurofighter" project. The P.1116 was that was eventually sold to Sweden as Gripen blueprints. Thus, Italy can easily have EJ-200 powered Gripens for Typhoon parts commodity, it is not necessary to use the current F-404/414 turbine unit.

    Land-based Gripen is ideal for over-land use and adriatic gondoliering, while the land-based Typhoon can be reserved for open waters west-basin Mediterranean Sea use. Sea Gripen could fly absolutely anywhere from the deck of Cavour ship.

    Italian co-manufacture with Helvetia would bring the local Gripen production run close to 100 planes. Maybe Slovenia, Croatia could be conquered with export eventually and the austrians made to convert, considering their miserable experience with Eurofighters. (Very expensive to fly and does tolerate cold, wet weather, a problem also confirmed by north german crews.)

    Gripen has favourable experience with czech and hungarian crews. It would be perfect to fly EJ turbine Gripens alongside Typhoons as light fighters / advanced trainers and for just 1/4th the cost of a Eurofighter flight hour!

    The F-35 with its huge turbine will be way too costly for daily ops and does not bring aerodynamic (canard) or engine (EJ-200) compatibility to the Eurofighter fleet. Italy is not in an economic position to support an air force of monsters like the EFA and the F-35. They need an affordable "good enough" plane, just like Switzerland.

  9. @Tamás, This is wisful thinking. With a F35 productionline (investment US $1 billion) in Italy they surely will never consider a Gripen E/F.

    They will not only produce the Italian F35's, they will also produce the Norwegian, as well as the Dutch F35's. Probably as well, they will produce also other "may be" ordered F35's in the future.

    Finland seems intested in the F35 (long term)

    Spain will have to replace the Harrier, the F35B probably the only option, or otherwise they will soldier on for some years with the Harrier.
    Italy will order the F35B, in that case, as a southern close alley, and Typhoon partner, Spain surely will not order a Sea Gripen.

    Belgium, may be the Gripen? Their prime minister either seems to favour the F35A.
    As well as, there are talks between the Netherlands and Belgium to cooperate in ordering a replacement for the F16.

    When they will do so, it will hardly be impossible to sell the Gripen E/F to Belgium.

    But who knows? Politicians can change by the moment and will always order a jet, not the military.
    Best example are the Swiss, the military did favour the Rafale and the Gripen will may be ordered in stead.

    Italy will have also the only maintenance centre for the F35 in Europe.
    Although the Dutch and -/or the Norwegians "probably" seem to get the engine maintenance centre in Europe for the F35.

    Production of the F35, Italy (90), Norway (56), the Netherlands (60-85?) and probably Denmark (30), as well may be others. Including a maintenance centre for the F35, next 50 years is not a bad investment for Italy.
    Especially not, because the Typhoon production will end.

  10. @Tamás. "The F-35B VTOL variant is now 99% sure to cancel entirely ... "

    Suppose you did not follow the F35B, the F35B is not on probation anymore. There is even some more interest in ordering the F35B according last news, although no country was mentioned.

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