Douglas Barrie/LINKOPING

SAUDI ARABIA HAS emerged as a key target of the British Aerospace/Saab joint venture marketing the JAS-39 Gripen fighter.

BAe has briefed Saudi Arabia on an export derivative of the Gripen to meet its Northrop F-5 replacement programme.

BAe has teamed with Saab to market and manufacture an export derivative known as the JAS-39X, and Saudi Arabia is viewed as a potential launch customer.

An F-5 replacement has been scheduled for 1996/7. This followed a force structure study implemented by BAe for the Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) as part of its defence equipment and support packages for the Al Yamamah project.

The RSAF has over 100 F-5s operating in interceptor, attack and training roles. A unit of RF-5Es provides a tactical reconnaissance capability.

The BAe/Saab JAS-39X joint venture will encounter fierce competition from Lockheed Martin, which is pushing its F-16. The US company is keen to break into the Saudi market.

BAe had previously considered addressing the RSAF replacement programme with the Hawk 200 single-seat light fighter derivative of the Hawk advanced jet trainer. Sources close to the Al Yamamah project suggest that the RSAF was not keen on this option.

With the Gripen as the dedicated light multi-role fighter in its product portfolio, BAe may be winding down its Hawk 200 marketing effort in some areas.

BAe and Saab are working on a baseline configuration for the JAS-39X, which in many ways will resemble a projected JAS-39C Lot Three aircraft, expected to be ordered by the Swedish air force (RSAF).

Senior Swedish air force officials believe a third batch of around 60 JAS-39Cs could be ordered by the end of 1996 to add to the 140 aircraft ordered.

The JAS-39C may have an alternative power plant to the General Electric/Volvo Flymotor RM12, a derivative of the GE F404. The Eurojet EJ200, Snecma M88-3, and GE's F414 are all being offered.

The RSAF may also use the procurement of the JAS-39C to acquire an advanced imaging infra-red short-range air-to-air missile, and also laser designation and reconnaissance pods.

The Gripen JAS-39A is fitted with a Rb74 (Sidewinder AIM-9L). Contenders to meet the replacement requirement will include BAe's Advanced Short Range Air-to-Air Missile and the Rafael Python 4.

The RSAF has also yet to determine the mix of single and two-seat Gripens to be procured within Lot Three. It is looking at using the full-combat two-seat JAS-39B for several crew- task-intensive roles.

Source: Flight International