STOCKHOLM / LINKÖPING, Sweden --- Sweden is stepping up its military capability against a background of increasingly aggravating behaviour from Russia. Defence Minister Peter Hultquist says that apart from “information and propaganda activities,” Russia is holding “lots of exercises near the border and, step-by-step, gaining higher military capability,” but also that Russian planes are “flying very close to our aircraft and sea-vessels.” A photograph taken by a Swedish Air Force pilot from the cockpit shows his Russian counterpart less than 20m away.
A Defence Commission report completed in mid-May suggests that between now and 2025 Sweden should invest SEK26bn (€2.42bn) for its defence. Hultquist says the government will now thoroughly analyse the report and come back to parliament by year end.
The extra spending would push Sweden’s defence budget to close to 2% of GDP but Hultquist says the government “doesn’t think that percentage of GDP spending is important. What we’re interested in is having real military capabilities and we’re not ready to connect defence spending to GDP.”
Against this background, Saab has completed three major aircraft developments over the past six years: the Gripen E, the T-X fighter trainer in co-operation with Boeing, and the GlobalEye intelligence gathering aircraft.
Eddy de La Motte, vice-president and head of the Gripen E/F business unit at Saab, says Gripen E test aircraft 39-7 (which, despite its numbering is actually the first of the Gripen flight test aircraft) has been modified to put a cockpit in the rear seat so that it can be used for customer demonstrations as well as being used as a flying rig.
Aircraft 39-8 and 39-9 have been tested in northern Sweden for testing the Meteor missile drop, amongst other things. “We’d planned two weeks for the testing and were able to get everything done in one,” de La Motte remarked, adding that “we’re getting more out of each individual flight test hour than we’d anticipated which is helping to move the programme forward.”
Today the flight envelope is being expanded, with 9g being flown earlier in May. Test pilot Marcus Wandt explained that although the aircraft was heavier than the Gripen C, “the agility is still there because it’s stronger and carries its weight very well.”
He and his five colleagues have flown 125 test hours with this “carefree manoeuvering aircraft that is very reliable.”
The first Swedish aircraft will be delivered this year to the test and evaluation force made up of personnel from Saab and the Swedish Air Force. The first Brazilian aircraft will be delivered to the Brazilian Air Force in 2021 but the first pilots will arrive here next January to start training.
Mikael Franzen, vice president and head of the Gripen Brazil business unit, explained that the two production lines for the aircraft – one in Sweden and one in Brazil – would both be called upon to support any export orders.
The two-seater Gripen F, developed specifically for Brazil and 65cm longer, has identical systems and displays as the E version. Franzen said eight aircraft would be built by Brazilians in Sweden (four Fs and four Es) to ensure that the Brazilians were totally at ease with all the building processes, and then 15 would be built in Brazil by Brazilians and 13 by Swedes in Sweden.
The second aircraft program is the GlobalEye developed for, and in close cooperation with, the United Arab Emirates which wanted an aircraft that could survey the air, the sea and land. The platform is a Bombardier Global 6000/6500 Ultra long-range (>11 hours), modified by Saab to be able to carry the tonne-weight of the Erieye ER (extended range) radar on its back together with a maritime surveillance radar in its nose and a ground moving target indicator under its belly.
The $1.27bn launch contract was signed in November 2015 and just 28 months later GlobalEye made its first flight. The second aircraft first flew last January. Lars Tossman, head of radar solutions for Saab, says the platform can be offered to “other customers who might not choose the same configuration.”
The third programme, the T-X trainer came about when a decade ago Saab approached Boeing “with no specific product or idea,” laughs Lars Sjöberg, vice president and head of the APTS business unit. “But our approach coincided with Boeing running an internationalisation campaign and looking for, preferably, European partners and the U.S Air Force beginning to talk about a new trainer to replace the T-38 Talon,” he recounts.
“T-X is very, very important for us because it’s a new product in a new market and with a new partner,” Sjöberg adds. From first concept to maiden flight took just three years, from December 2013 to December 2016. Initial operational capability in the U.S. Air Force is scheduled for 2024.
Saab is responsible for manufacturing the rear fuselage of the five aircraft of the $813m engineering manufacturing and development contract (which also calls for seven simulators) that the U.S.Air Force signed with Boeing in 2018. There is a requirement for a further 346 aircraft which will be the subject of a yet-to-be-signed production contract.