The Saab/BAE Systems Gripen fighter is making its Middle East debut at Dubai 2003 – the launch pad for its worldwide marketing drive.
This year's show will see a full-scale replica of the aircraft together with an exhibition stand featuring the aircraft in service. By the next show, Gripen International believes that the aircraft will be part of the flying display.
Even before the formal launch of the worldwide marketing campaign, the aircraft has already notched up two export orders – from the South African Air Force, for 28 aircraft, and from the Hungarian air force, for 14 aircraft. That is in addition to the 204 Gripens on order from the Royal Swedish Air Force, 137 of which have been delivered.
Gripen International is also offering the aircraft in fight procurement campaigns in Brazil and the Czech Republic.
Dubai was chosen for the launch of the worldwide campaign because it has become a major airshow, says Stephen Reeves, Gripen International's executive vice-president for international marketing.
"We are literally at the beginning of the marketing campaign, although the aircraft's success in South Africa and Hungary means that we are very optimistic once we put together the campaign proper. Those two orders have given us terrific encouragement," he says.
"We have not spoken to air forces or the governments of the [Middle East] region. In two years time, by the time of the next Dubai airshow, we will have identified potential customers and so we would like to bring the aircraft out and have it fly here."
A key selling point for the aircraft is that Gripen International – jointly owned by Saab AB of Sweden and BAE Systems of Britain – is 50% "non-aligned".
Reeves says: "The fact that 50% of the ownership is non-aligned is a very telling point for a lot of customers."
While in the Middle East there remain countries where the aircraft will not be demonstrated, Reeves – a veteran of the region – said that international politics had become highly fluid and very unpredictable.
"International politics is now so dynamic that nobody knows how things will develop in the next few years," he says. "It is absolutely staggering how countries where once you could have no dealings are suddenly transformed and the government is encouraging you to get your products into them."
Owe Wagermark, Gripen International communications director and the firm's leading military advisor, says the multi-mission, multi-role fourth generation fighter is at "the leading edge of fighters". The all-digital cockpit means that each aircraft effectively becomes a "mini-AWACS" aircraft – a unique element.