General Lennart Pettersson, Commander Air Force Command, shares his thoughts on the operational advantages that Gripen’s basic design and technology brings.
“Ever since the Cold War, the Swedish concept of combat operations has relied on dispersed assets. Numerous runways, supported by highly mobile turnaround/maintenance units, allow us to deploy concentrated airpower with great tactical reach across the whole country.
“To increase our survivability and flexibility, Sweden’s wartime facilities has a main runway surrounded by a network of shorter, concealed runways. This is why our modern aircraft, including Gripen, were designed to operate from strips shorter than 1000 m (3,280 ft).
“For future international scenarios, this short take-off and landing performance will give a tactical commander the capability and confidence to sustain Gripen operations when normal runways are damaged; when the weather might force take-offs or landings with very strong tailwinds; when there are none of the arrestor wires that other aircraft types need to recover safely on short runways; or if there is only a handful of available runways spread over a wide area. The Gripen can always use roads as runways.”
“Data linked information gives pilots superb situational awareness. We first fully introduced this technology on the Viggen interceptor in the mid-1980s. Since then, data links have driven the development of entirely new air-to-air combat techniques within the Swedish Air Force. Thanks to the tactical data link we can disperse a fighter group over wide distance and altitude separations. Individual pilots, with no direct visual contact with each other, still have the complete picture of an evolving air battle. This creates great tactical flexibility within the group – it is ‘information superiority’.
“Using the data link, for example, an entire Gripen force can shift back and forth between offensive and defensive roles in the air, with little or no radio transmissions. Pilots can focus on the emerging air picture – without the distraction of radio chatter. In a high-tempo war fighting environment, one of great stress and physical strain, Gripen pilots using data links have performed themselves very well indeed against their foreign colleagues in air-to-air combat.”
“During past international exercises, Gripen has been very competitive during close-in combat against foreign aircraft such as the F-16 and F-18. I don’t want to make any snap judgments, because it was a limited number of contacts and I don’t have all exercise parameters. However, during beyond visual range engagements, we can definitely say that the radar, data link, electronic warfare suite and man-machine interface (cockpit design, display symbology etc.) of the Gripen, gave its pilots a clear upper-hand. Their ‘information advantage’ and situational awareness meant that they could employ Gripen’s weapon systems in a more optimal way than their foreign counterparts.”
“Although some aircraft flown in these exercises may have had a slightly better thrust-to-weight ratio than our aircraft, Gripens still managed to get behind the F-16s to make use of both their IR-missiles and guns. The small visual signature and excellent agility of the Gripen proved to be a considerable advantage in a dogfight.”