Saab has been awarded the latest in a series of contracts to further development activities on its Gripen C/D fighter for the Swedish air force.

To run until early 2013, the Swedish kronor 152 million ($23.8 million) deal will enhance the navigation system capabilities of the Gripen in its version 19 operating standard, which is now involved in NATO's Operation Unified Protector over Libya.

Eight Gripen Cs have flown more than a combined 180 sorties from Sigonella air base in Sicily since early April, with their current emphasis being on providing digital reconnaissance imagery. The aircraft also carry laser designator pods, but have not dropped weapons or provided targeting services for other nations' aircraft during the campaign.

 Eight Gripens Sigonella - Swedish air force

Gripen Libya - Swedish air force

Both images © Swedish air force

Swedish air force inspector general Maj Gen Anders Silwer briefed journalists at the show on Wednesday, less than a week after the nation's parliament extended his service's "Karakal" contribution to the Libya campaign by a further three months. The new mandate will see five Gripens perform reconnaissance missions over a wider area of Libyan territory. "Before we had a little bit of a limitation, but now we are more integrated into the process - except from the targeting," Silwer said.

Silwer said its Gripens have performed well so far in what is Sweden's first such operational commitment in 50 years, and that the first use of a new Link 16 datalink capability has added a valuable capability to the type's interoperability.

Meanwhile, Silwer revealed that the first pilots for Sweden's future fleet of 15 Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk utility helicopters began training to operate the type at the US Army's Fort Rucker site in Alabama on 20 June. Deliveries will commence next year under the deal, which will cover for the late availability of the nation's NH Industries NH90 transports in another current theatre of operations.

"On 1 April 2013 we will be in Afghanistan [with Black Hawks]; or I won't be here," said Silwer.

Source: Flight Daily News