Sweden’s air force has begun fielding the new MS20-standard software for its Saab Gripen C/D fleet, representing a significant increase in operational capability.
The process of introducing the standard began recently, with MS20 adding MBDA’s Meteor beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile and Boeing’s GBU-39 small diameter bomb to the single-engined fighter’s suite of weapons. Other enhancements include enhanced Link 16 capability for situational awareness, a new data link added to enhance capability during close air support missions, expanded functionality for the pilot’s helmet-mounted sight, an infrared reconnaissance pod and an automatic ground collision avoidance system.
Speaking at Saab’s Linköping site on 18 May, head of aeronautics Ulf Nilsson described the current model’s enhancement as “a revolutionary update,” adding: “It will be operational later this year with the Swedish air force.” Aircraft assigned to the service’s six fighter squadrons will progressively receive the software and hardware updates, which are likely to take around one week to embody per aircraft.
According to Swedish air force chief Maj Gen Mats Helgesson, the Meteor’s addition is of particular significance. “From our perspective that’s a game-changer,” he says. “This is something that we have invested lots of money in, and makes the C/D a really potent air defender again.”
Swedish aircraft have flown with the weapon, but it has not yet been carried during a quick reaction alert sortie, he confirms. The air force is seeing a similar requirement for such activity so far this year as in 2015, when around 330 missions were launched.
“We are the first air force operating the Meteor,” Helgesson notes, with the long-range system also to be introduced on France’s Dassault Rafales and Eurofighter Typhoons flown by Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK. "We are not completely ready with all the tactics, but it is fielded."
Up to 16 wingkit-equipped GBU-39 bombs can also be carried following the MS20 update, using four-round launchers for the 110kg (250lb) strike weapon.
Following its introduction with the Swedish air force, the new software standard will also be available for adoption by other Gripen C/D operators, which include the Czech Republic, Hungary, South Africa and Thailand. And despite the roll-out of the company’s new-generation E-model jet, Saab’s head of Gripen, Jerker Ahlqvist, says the development path for the current version “goes well into the next 10 years”.