New deals extend Saab Gripen line into next decade

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Saab has received contracts and commitments that will keep the Gripen multi-role fighter production line open into the next decade and pave the way for a next-generation aircraft.

Thailand has selected the Swedish fighter to replace its Northrop F-5s, and approved a budget of 34,400 billion baht ($1.1 billion) to procure 12 Gripen C/Ds and two Saab Erieye airborne early warning aircraft, to enter service beginning in 2010.

In addition the Swedish government has signed an SKr3.9 billion ($600 million) contract to rebuild 31 Gripen A/Bs to C/D standard, for delivery starting in 2010 under the plan to reduce the Swedish air force's fighter force to 100 Gripen C/Ds.

The contract also covers the Swedish government's investment in the three-year Gripen demonstrator programme. A test aircraft, the Gripen Demo, will fly in 2008 and demonstrate a strengthened 10g airframe, more powerful engine, new landing gear, increased fuel capacity, active-array radar and expanded weapons capability.

The Royal Thai Air Force will be the fifth operator of the Swedish fighter. Phase 1 of the procurement covers six Gripens and one Erieye, for which 19,000 billion baht has been budgeted within the 2008-12 five-year plan. Phase 2 procurement of six more Gripens and the second Erieye has been budgeted at 15,400 billion in 2013-17.

Sweden's Defence Materiel Administration says negotiations will now begin on the government-government deal. It is not yet clear whether the Thai aircraft will be new-build Gripens or ex-Swedish air force A/Bs rebuilt to C/D standard.

The airframes for the Swedish A/B to C/D upgrade programme will be entirely new, says Saab, and only the engines, radars and some systems will be reused. The work will begin in 2008 and upgraded aircraft will be identical to new-build C/Ds, it says.

Upgrading the Swedish aircraft will keep the Gripen production line open to 2012, says Saab. Meanwhile, the Gripen Demo will develop upgrades that could be retrofitted into Gripen C/Ds and technologies for a "Next Generation Gripen" that could be offered for export early in the next decade, the company says.

Industry is part-funding the demonstrator programme. Saab says it is investing SKr1 billion while risk-sharing suppliers like General Electric, Honeywell and Rockwell Collins are investing "several hundred million" more on their own money.