SAAB-BAE Systems has stolen a march on its competitors by announcing a fully compliant response to the exacting request for proposals for a new multi-role fighter issued in January by the Czech Republic. The RFP required all bid documentation to be delivered in the Czech language and for pricing to be in crowns, the national currency. These requirements alone are reported to have proved difficult for other bidders, and it has been suggested that the F-16 and Dassault Mirage 2000 may have dropped out of the race. Saab-BAE Systems has announced a ten-year, 150% offset programme and a 100% long-term finance package. Significant finance repayments will not begin until 2006 and are spread over 15 years. The suppliers have guaranteed that economic benefits from the offset programme will kick in before any repayments are made. Some 85% of the financing is to be provided by a consortium of international banks under an export credit loan supported by the Swedish and UK governments, with the remaining 15% funded through a local currency loan by a consortium of Czech banks.

The package has been carefully tailored to optimise budgetary expenditure by the Czechs during their campaign to join the European Union in 2004-2005. Technical details of the Gripen being offered to the Czechs have not yet been made public. But the aircraft will be "fully NATO-compatible and interoperable", with a compatible datalink and air-to-air refuelling system. It will also have a degree of weapons and support commonality with the Czech Air Force's indigenous L-159 fleet. In the event of a purchase, the Czechs would be able to participate in future Gripen enhancement programmes. The Saab-BAE Systems bid is understood to outline two options, for 24 or 36 aircraft, and deliveries over 2004-2008. The Czech Republic has not had a modern air-defence fighter since it retired its last MiG-23s and sold its MiG-29s to Poland. The first Gripen squadron would form in 2005. The Czechs have been offered two maintenance and support options: a fixed price per flying hour and depot-level maintenance agreement, or customised logistics support based on existing facilities. The Gripen is also fancied to meet a Polish requirement.

On 6 June two Swedish single-seat Gripens joined a dispersed operations exercise with the Poles, operating alongside MiG-29s, MiG-21s, Su-22s and Iskras near Szcecin. The aim was to demonstrate their ability to interoperate with Poland's existing assets, and to fly from forward operating bases and unprepared road strips - an important element of both Swedish and Polish defence doctrine. Saab-BAE Systems says the Gripen is unique among the types being offered to Poland in being able to meet this requirement. Gripen has a comparatively modest appetite for support infrastructure and equipment, spares and maintenance downtime. It has also demonstrated rapid turnrounds, being rearmed and refuelled by a five-man team in less than 10min, and needs less than 500m of narrow roadway for take-off or landing. Saab-BAE Systems claims that the aircraft¹s high availability, reliability and low support requirements allow it to generate more sorties than any other type in its class, or to achieve the same operational objectives with a smaller force. Saab-BAE Systems is currently preparing a response to a Polish RFP for the modernisation of the country's air force to meet national, NATO and European defence needs. Like the aircraft offered to the Czech, any Polish Gripen variant would be fully NATO-compatible and interoperable.

Source: Flight Daily News