The Swedish government is poised to approve a key demonstration programme that will support the continued development of the Saab Gripen for the nation's air force and potential future export customers.

The Gripen demonstration programme will support export campaigns

Due to be considered by the Swedish parliament last week, the project will lead to test flights between next year and 2010 of an improved two-seat JAS39B equipped with a new engine, redesigned undercarriage, 40% increase in internal fuel capacity and a 2t growth in maximum take-off weight to 16t.

The enhancements were outlined last year as part of an effort to support operations of the Gripen until around 2040 (Flight International, 27 June-3 July 2006).

A key element of the project will be the integration of a new F414G engine developed by General Electric in conjunction with Sweden's Volvo Aero.

Derived from the propulsion system for Boeing's F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, the design is to deliver more than 22,000lb (96kN) of thrust, marking a 35% increase over the Gripen's current F404 powerplant.

The engine - two test examples of which are already being produced - will also enable the aircraft to achieve supercruise performance, says Gripen International managing director Johan Lehander.

Additional companies already signed up to support the wider demonstration project include APPH, Honeywell, Martin-Baker, Rockwell Collins and Terma, and Lehander says a partner will be selected later this year to collaborate with Saab Microwave Systems on the development of an active electronically scanned array radar for the aircraft.

It will also be equipped with new weapons, potentially including the US Small Diameter Bomb and an air-launched development of the Kongsberg Defence & Aerospace Naval Strike Missile,

In addition to supporting export campaigns in nations including Denmark, India and Norway, the programme will serve as a risk-reduction effort for a proposed deal to rebuild 31 of Sweden's current JAS39A/Bs to a Future Gripen configuration, says Saab chief executive Ake Svensson.

The new standard should be available from the middle of the next decade, the company says.

The demonstrator and future development efforts will be conducted without the involvement of Gripen International stakeholder BAE Systems. "Now it's time for Saab to take more responsibility," says Svensson.

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Source: Flight International