Saab has cut metal on its first of three dedicated test examples of the Gripen E fighter, and flown the type's production-standard active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar for the first time in its current two-seat demonstrator.
Speaking at the Paris air show on 19 June, Saab's head of aeronautics Lennart Sindahl said the metal-cutting milestone was achieved recently at the company's Linkoping site in Sweden, and involved the radar bulkhead for an aircraft designated as JAS 39-8. This is due to make its flight debut in 2015, followed by two more E-model test aircraft.
Demonstration-phase work using a modified D-model trainer in early June advanced into a fifth phase of activity, with the aircraft now flying with a digital head-up display, new infrared search and track sensor and Selex ES-05 Raven AESA array installed.
"We have done the first flights in Phase 5, and this aircraft is doing a really great job in development," Sindahl says. "We are well ahead, with all of the [Gripen E] systems now in the air. I feel very confident in relation to the risk on this programme."
Deliveries of the new-generation Gripen are scheduled to start in 2018. Sweden has committed to buying 60 of the advanced version, with Switzerland also in the advanced phase of approving as 22-aircraft deal.
Meanwhile, Sindahl says Saab has already started on the path of studying a capability to use the Gripen E in an optionally-manned configuration. One mission example for the system could see it perform long-range reconnaissance flights beyond the range possible using a crewed fighter, due to the need to provide combat search and rescue helicopter cover for its pilot.
"We have a lot of ideas, but we don't want to start a journey on our own. We need to have a customer on board and to support us in designing this in the best possible way."