Saab is to significantly raise the tempo of its flight-test programme for the Gripen E fighter this year, with the activity to be expanded from a current two aircraft to five.

A pair of prototypes, designated 39-8 and 39-9, are already involved in the Swedish manufacturer's campaign. A third such example (-10) will be flown before mid-year, while Saab is to also resume using its "Gripen Demo" airframe – a specially adapted two-seater – in support of the programme. Its lead production example will also support the programme from later this year, before first deliveries are made to the Swedish and Brazilian air forces by the end of 2019.

Gripen E 39-8 - Saab


"The testing programme is really ramping up this year, as we are getting more test aircraft online and also production aircraft," says Eddy De La Motte, the head of Saab's Gripen E/F business unit. He describes the reintroduction of demonstrator platform 39-7 – the rear seat of which has been adapted to represent the Gripen E – as enabling the company to use the asset as a "flying simulator rig".

"We have concentrated very much on the flight envelope with the first test aircraft – now we are moving gradually more and more into the tactical and sensor systems, and all that encompasses a complete aircraft," Jonas Hjelm, head of Saab's aeronautics business area, said during the company's annual Gripen seminar in Stockholm on 27 March.

Flight activities last year included carriage trials with MBDA's Meteor beyond visual-range air-to-air missile and separation tests with the short-range Diehl Defence IRIS-T weapon, and De La Motte says current work involves the fighter's Raven ES-05 active electronically scanned array radar, infrared search and track sensor – both supplied by Leonardo – and Saab electronic warfare suite.

The first four production Gripen Es are currently in final assembly at Saab's Linkoping site, with work having commenced early this year. "We're very happy with the progress of the production programme," says De La Motte, who describes this as "on track". Once its new production system is fully established, it will be able to complete up to 24 aircraft per year, he adds.

De La Motte says the programme's first Gripen F is scheduled to make its flight debut during 2023. Brazil has ordered eight of the twin-seat model as part of a 36-aircraft contract. Around 150 engineers – split evenly between Saab and Brazilian personnel ­– are currently working on the design changes required for the F-model, and De La Motte says the variant remains "on track".

Meanwhile, with an eye on further export opportunities, Hjelm confirms that Saab will participate in a planned flight evaluation process by Switzerland later this year, having recently responded to the nation's next-generation fighter requirement.

"We will show the Swiss customer that we have a proven technology base in our aircraft, and that when and if they choose us, they will get a wonderful system that will perform according to their specification when they want a delivery in 2025," he says.

Saab earlier this year submitted proposals to supply the Swiss air force with either 30 or 40 Gripen Es, depending on its eventual fleet requirements. Switzerland previously selected the type for a 22-unit fighter requirement, but the procurement was subsequently abandoned following the outcome of a public referendum staged in May 2014.