The Swedish Defence Materiel Administration (FMV) is to fund a flying technology demonstrator for future upgrades of the Saab JAS39 Gripen.
Mats Hugosson, head of marketing at Gripen engine manufacturer Volvo Aero, says that the demonstrator will be flying in three to five years, and is "-aimed at proving technology which could be used in upgrades or a future programme".
Wing Cdr Claes Wretfors, Gripen international programmes director at FMV, declines to confirm the timescale, but says that one of the current Gripen flight-test aircraft will be converted into a flying technology demonstrator.
Hugosson says that Volvo is continuing long-running studies into an alternative powerplant for the Gripen. This was initially aimed at the 64-aircraft Batch 3 order for the Swedish air force, but has now been directed at the demonstrator programme.
Front runners for the possible re-engineing are the Eurojet EJ200, developed for the Eurofighter EF2000, and the General Electric F414.
Other technology being looked at includes new avionics and weapons, as well as thrust vectoring. This holds the potential for a future tailless variant of the aircraft.
The Volvo executive confirms that the company is in talks with Saab, General Electric, Daimler-Benz Aerospace (Dasa) and Boeing on the X-31 Vector programme - the follow-on to the original Rockwell/Dasa X-31A vectored-thrust-demonstrator work.
The Vector programme will include GE's AVEN axisymmetric thrust-vectoring nozzle. Volvo is pushing for the existing X-31 to be fitted with its 80.5kN (18,000lb)-thrust RM12 engine, developed for the Gripen from the GE F404, with increased thrust, bird-strike resistance and survivability.
The X-31 Vector has previously been held up by inter-Governmental financing negotiations. Particular problems have been encountered by the German side, where defence officials are wrestling with drastic defence-budget cuts and pressure to clear the production investment phase of the Eurofighter programme.
Swedish sources close to the programme say, however, that Germany appears to be becoming more responsive in attempts to fund the Vector.
Volvo is now developing an improved RM12 UP variant of the engine for Batch 3 Gripens. This will include a full-authority digital engine-control (FADEC) system, an improved flame holder and redesigned turbine.
The FADEC will be developed by Lockheed Martin together with GE and Volvo, and will replace the current engine's digital engine controls. It is expected that it will be fitted to a flying engine in 1999.