The Gripen fighters that will arrive in Bangalore today for flight trials are not the Gripen NG that the IAF has been offered. Instead, two Gripen-D fighters have reached Bangalore
by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 9th Mar 2010
The high-voltage $11 billion contest to sell India 126 Medium Multi-Role Fighter Aircraft (MMRCA) is reaching the end of the trials phase in a blaze of potential controversy. Today, the last of the six contenders being evaluated by the Indian Air Force --- the Swedish Gripen --- will fly into Bangalore for trials. But Business Standard has learned that the fighters that will touch down are not the ones that Gripen International has offered: the JAS-39IN Gripen NG. Instead, two older-model Gripen-D fighters will arrive.
The Gripen NG, a light, agile, ultra-modern fighter built by Swedish aerospace giant Saab, has always been one of the hottest contenders in the fray. Saab’s default on the MoD’s trial directive, which lays down that the fighter that is being offered must be the one that comes for trials, will delight its rivals --- Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Dassault, Eurofighter and MiG --- since Gripen is now vulnerable to disqualification.
The arrival of the Gripen-D instead of the Gripen NG has a simple cause: the Swedish Air Force, having opted to buy the Gripen NG, has ordered a series of improvements on the Gripen NG prototype. With those under way, Sweden’s flight certification agency, SMV, has ruled that the prototypes require additional flight-testing in Sweden before the aircraft can be sent to India.
Confirming these developments, Gripen International’s Director India, Eddy de la Motte, told Business Standard, “The Gripen NG prototype cannot come just yet to India as it is required in Sweden for testing and evaluation by the Swedish Air Force which is interested in buying the fighter. Indian pilots have not yet flown the Gripen NG, but we will make sure that they get an opportunity at the very earliest.”
Sources close to the Gripen campaign say that IAF pilots will be offered a chance to fly the Gripen NG during a visit to Sweden from 6th to 10th April. Gripen International will also ask for fresh dates for bringing the Gripen NG to India for trials.
Even without having flown the Gripen NG prototype, IAF pilots have been extremely impressed by the fighter’s capabilities. Besides superb avionics and superior flight performance, they say the Gripen NG can land on an 800-metre stretch of highway; and then refuel, rearm and take-off within 10 minutes. This allows each Gripen NG to fly far more sorties per day than any other aircraft today.
The IAF pilots who have visited the Gripen simulators in Sweden have also been impressed by its electronic warfare capabilities and by the training facilities on offer.
The Swedish MoD’s unexpected refusal to allow the Gripen NG to India for trials has blown the race wide open. From a clear front-runner in the eyes of the IAF, the Gripen NG’s very participation in trials now depends upon a decision to be taken by the IAF and the Indian MoD.