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Gripen revives war of words over Norwegian fighter assessment

Saab-led Gripen International has revived its war of words linked to the Norwegian defence ministry's selection of Lockheed Martin's F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and rejection of its Gripen NG offering last November.

The move comes as the next-generation version of the Swedish fighter is in the final phase of competitions in Brazil and Switzerland, and as Saab attempts to revive stalled procurement efforts in three eastern European states.

Oslo prompted a furious response from Saab chief executive Åke Svensson last year after eliminating the Gripen from its fighter contest on the grounds that the design "does not satisfy Norwegian requirements".

Branding the evaluation process "incomplete, or even faulty", Svensson challenged a decision by evaluators to more than treble his company's guaranteed bid price from NKr55 billion ($8.9 billion) to NKr195 billion: NKr30 billion higher than a JSF figure recently confirmed as only an estimate.

Saab Gripen NG
 © Saab

Saab was also angered by Norway's conduct of three secret simulations, which evaluators say favoured the F-35. The company subsequently launched its own series of 50 simulations involving the Gripen NG, JSF and a threat force represented by Sukhoi Su-35s, using all available data on the aircraft, countermeasures equipment and missile performance, it says.

Peter Nilsson, vice-president operational capabilities for Gripen International, says the results quash Lockheed's marketing claims that the JSF is over six times more capable than current-generation fighters in air-to-air combat.

Noting that a four-versus-four scenario between F-35s and Su-35s would pit eight Raytheon AIM-120D Amraam missiles and eight AIM-9X Sidewinders against 48 Vympel R-77s and eight R-73s, he comments: "They'd better be invincible. Because if you can't get past the 'Flankers' you'll never get to a ground target."

Saab's simulations saw the MBDA Meteor- and Diehl BGT Defence IRIS-T missile-equipped Gripen NG defeat the Su-35 at a ratio of 1:6 to 1. "For JSF it's the other way round," says Nilsson.

Meanwhile, Gripen International's senior vice-president sales and marketing, Bob Kemp, says the company is taking a new approach in its bid to secure pending fighter deals in Bulgaria, Romania and Slovakia, potentially covering a combined total of 42 aircraft.

"We have been looking at our strategy for that region, recognising that there is a real, genuine financial problem," says Kemp. "We're working closely with the Swedish government to try to come up with some innovative financing arrangements to find a way so that they can get the capability now and pay for it later."

Sweden has already leased 14 Gripen C/Ds each to Czech Republic and Hungary.

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