The Swedish air force has for many years pursued a policy of dispersing operational flying from its main military airfields on to pre-prepared sections of highway. Each fighter base has a cluster of smaller airfields in the surrounding road network. Roads, however, will never be as long or wide as conventional runways and if the policy of dispersed operations is to be practical, the aircraft must be largely independent of ground support facilities.

These considerations have led to the Gripen having features designed for dispersed operations. Principal among these is an undercarriage stressed for no-flare landings since considerable runway length is wasted by the usual landing flare. The wheelbrakes are powerful, with touchdown protection, and there are nosewheel brakes as well as the usual main wheel units. The combination of high power-to-weight ratio, powerful wheelbrakes and accurate nosewheel steering mean that the Gripen can operate from relatively short and narrow strips.

Dispersed airfields are of limited use unless the aircraft can find them and land in poor weather. In Sweden, dispersed runways are equipped with a tactical landing system that allows approaches to be made in instrument meteorological conditions to a decision height of 197ft (60m).

On the ground, the Gripen can be serviced, refuelled and re-armed by five conscripts and an officer in 10min within one role, while a change of roles extends the turnaround to 20min. An auxiliary power unit provides electrical and hydraulic power, as well as the starting system for the main engine. This means all the aircraft systems can be checked without recourse to ground power units.

A dispersed airfield strategy cannot be fully effective unless pilots are kept informed of the next mission and the operational scenario. The Gripen has comprehensive datalink systems that provide this information.

Source: Flight International