SAAB MILITARY AIRCRAFT has flown the first prototype of an upgraded JA37 Viggen fighter, capable of carrying the Hughes AIM-120 advanced medium-range air-to-air missile (AMRAAM), thereby completing the development phase of its mid-life update.
The aircraft's maiden flight took place on 4 June, and Saab says this will be followed by modification of the Swedish air force's JA37 fleet before the turn of the century.
To enable integration of the US-built AMRAAM, the update includes a new weapons interface, similar to that of the Saab JAS39 Gripen, including a new stores management computer and a 1553 databus. The aircraft also has an upgraded, Ericsson PS-46A radar and a new tactical radio system, also similar to that of the Gripen.
A data-transfer unit has also been fitted to the aircraft for mission-data and tactical recording. This will be used together with a ground-based mission-planning system.
According to Swedish air force material-department chief Gen Steffan Nasstrom, it is yet to be confirmed how many of the 125 JA37s now in service will be upgraded. This is to be decided in the latest Swedish defence plan, to be announced on 13 December. The modification of in-service aircraft will begin in 1997.
"This is a budgetary and strategic decision," says Nasstrom. The air force is faced with a probable 10% cut in the 1997 defence budget, and is planning to cut its force from 16 to 13 squadrons.
The December defence plan will also include a decision on the procurement of a third batch of JAS 39 Gripens, predicted to comprise 60 to 70 aircraft. Nasstrom says that, counting the latest upgrade, Sweden has "-doubled the effectiveness of the overall [Viggen] system" since its introduction into service in 1972. The AJ/AJS37 attack and reconnaissance versions of the aircraft, are expected to remain in service, until about 2003 when they will be replaced by the Gripen.
Deliveries of the first batch of 30 Gripens is to be completed by the end of this year, with the second batch of 110 following from 1997. The aircraft itself is now undergoing AMRAAM integration, and flight testing with the missile will begin in 1997.
Source: Flight International