Saturday, 22 October 2016

Saab links Gripen bid with Tejas programme, to counter F-16 production numbers



By Ajai Shukla
Linkoping, Sweden
Business Standard, 21st Oct 16

The contest to supply the Indian Air Force (IAF) a single-engine, medium fighter is currently playing out as a two-horse race. US giant, Lockheed Martin, is the Goliath looking to slay the David that is Swedish firm, Saab.

Lockheed Martin, which has offered to shift its F-16 production line to India, is the world’s biggest defence firm, with US $46.1 billion dollars in sales last year and an order backlog of almost $100 billion. Saab, which has offered its latest fighter, the Gripen E, appears a relative minnow, with $3 billion in sales last year, and an order book of $12.9 billion.

Yet, Saab is an extraordinarily accomplished minnow. Visitors to the Swedish Air Force Museum near Saab’s aerospace facility at Linkoping, two hours by train from Stockholm, encounter an aerospace tradition that has, since 1926, kept pace with the world’s best.

The museum displays the J-29 “Flying Barrel”, the first “swept-wing” fighter after World War II; the Draken, Europe’s first supersonic fighter, which pioneered the “double delta wing”, and the Viggen, the first mainstream fighter to feature the canard --- now common in high-performance fighters. India came close to buying the Viggen but Washington, which provided the engines, blocked the sale in 1978. The IAF bought the Anglo-French Jaguar instead, which still remains in service.

As Saab’s marketing team never tires of telling Indians, this excellence in defence production stemmed from Sweden’s traditional strategic independence --- similar to India’s. After remaining neutral through World War II, Sweden declined to join NATO in 1949, choosing to cater for its own defence against Russia.

Responsible for its own defence, Sweden leveraged an existing scientific and engineering culture to develop an advanced aerospace and defence industry. In the late 1950s, the Swedish Air Force was the world’s fourth largest, fielding over 1,000 frontline aircraft.

Anticipating that a Soviet invasion would quickly render its airfields unusable, the Swedish Air Force insisted on light, versatile fighters that could operate from short stretches of highway, refuelling and rearming in minutes before re-joining battle.

This is the tradition that shapes the JAS-39 Gripen E, Saab’s latest and most advanced fighter that is expected to make its first flight by end-2016. Unlike Dassault’s Rafale, which endured tortuous years of wait before Egypt became its first export customer, the Gripen E has been selected by Brazil even before its first flight. In winning the Brazil tender, the Gripen E beat the Rafale, and Boeing’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornet.

In sheer aerodynamic performance, the Gripen E will probably be a match for the F-16 Block 70. While the former has still to fly, its predecessor, the Gripen D, was extensively evaluated by the IAF --- mainly to its satisfaction --- as part of the 2007 medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) tender. The Gripen E, incorporating a new General Electric F-414 engine; is larger, heavier and more powerful than the Gripen D, which had an older F-404 power plant.

Even the avionics are comparable. The F-16’s Northrop Grumman APG-83 airborne electronically scanned array (AESA) radar is a proven, highly effective combat system. But the Gripen E could score with more sophisticated data networks that bring together inputs from multiple sensors --- such as airborne warning and control systems (AWACS), satellites and a fighter’s own AESA radar --- fusing data to present a comprehensive picture of the air battle in a cockpit arrangement that is amongst the world’s most pilot-friendly.

With combat performance similar, the choice between the F-16 and Gripen E could boil down, as IAF boss, Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha said last month, to two factors --- procurement and operating cost, and technology transfer.

In procurement cost, Lockheed Martin would score by transferring a fully amortised assembly line from Fort Worth, Texas to India. Further, by creating a vendor and sub-vendor eco-system in India to sustain a global inventory of 3,200 F-16s, spares and maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) would be cheaper. Aviation analysts like IHS Jane’s 360 assess the Gripen’s “operating cost per hour” to be lower than any comparable fighter, but that advantage would be nullified by the scale of the F-16 production business.

Currently, there are less than a hundred Gripen E on order: 60 by Sweden, and 36 by Brazil. But Saab hopes more will follow, and there could also be interest in an aircraft carrier version of the fighter --- the Sea Gripen.

Saab’s strategy, therefore, hinges on a technology-based deal that Lockheed Martin simply cannot offer because of US export control laws. Linking its offer with the development of the indigenous Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), Saab has offered to help the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) fast-track the Tejas Mark 1A. The four improvements required to the current Tejas — better combat radar, more lethal weapons, dedicated electronic warfare capability and better maintainability --- are well within Saab’s capabilities. Sweetening the deal, Saab has offered to partner ADA in developing India’s planned next-generation Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA).

New Delhi’s choices, therefore, are: on the one hand, the F-16’s lower price and the opportunity to become an industrial supplier to a 3,200-strong global F-16 fleet. On the other hand, Saab’s technology partnership, unencumbered by a restrictive export control regime, which could smoothen the induction of the LCA and AMCA.

Theoretically Washington could veto the Gripen bid, just as it had the Viggen. The Gripen E flies with US engines and other aircraft systems. Yet, that is highly unlikely, given the closeness of US-India relations, and Washington’s frequent declarations that it would like to see India’s military built up into a more powerful regional force.

Finally, Saab offers a less controversial route to a contract that could encounter political attack. In the Indian psyche, the F-16 remains strongly linked with Pakistan. Washington cleared a tranche of F-16 Block 50/52 in the last one year --- a procurement that was eventually blocked by the US Congress, through the denial of funding. The appetite of the government to buck this trend remains uncertain.


(Disclosure: the correspondent visited Saab’s facilities in Sweden at the invitation of the company)

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

I would go for saab Gripen E anyday as its free of any U.S manipulations and has possibilities of future upgrades...F 16 is an old legacy fighter already pushed to its max limits...You have forgotten to mention the steerable AESA radar of Gripen vis a vis fixed one of F16

Vijay said...

Hello Sir

In your opinion ; which Plane should INDIA CHOOSE and why ?

Hynniewtrep said...

Whatever its strengths it still has to use an American engine.Therefore it is not an "independent choice".What we really require is someone who is willing to help us revive Kaveri.

Lingaraj said...

so Sweden will be so smart as to advanced technology and so dumb as far as business head to create a competitor in Tejas! Either Gripen E obliterates Tejas to its death bed OR Tejas Mk II is what the RFI is all about. Besides what a laughing stock will be the IAF to the rest of the world operating 3 different types of aircrafts none large enough in numbers to facilitate MRO in India. So either this article you have written is a Christmas wish or a death knell for Tejas aircraft because the main issue with Tejas is its architecture to accommodate weapons not the weapons themselves.

victor raj said...

"light, versatile fighters that could operate from short stretches of highway, refuelling and rearming in minutes before re-joining battle" this is what we need. Low maintenance goes a long way in a battle. F16 is based on a old platform.gripen is new. Technology transfer is more worthy than supplying spares. Gripen e is a clear winner. This competition is not equally matched at all.

parthvader89 said...

If we buy F-16, we can integrate our weapons on it (this is bare minimum ToT IAF will settle for). These weapons, which are a fraction of the cost of western kit, are going to be just as capable. Imagine a market of 3200 F-16s around the world capable of accepting Indian weapons and kit.

Anonymous said...


"Anticipating that a Soviet invasion would quickly render its airfields unusable, the Swedish Air Force insisted on light, versatile fighters that could operate from short stretches of highway, refuelling and rearming in minutes before re-joining battle."

"The Gripen E, incorporating a new General Electric F-414 engine; is larger, heavier and more powerful than the Gripen D, which had an older F-404 power plant."

"Even the avionics are comparable. The F-16’s Northrop Grumman APG-83 airborne electronically scanned array (AESA) radar is a proven, highly effective combat system. But the Gripen E could score with more sophisticated data networks that bring together inputs from multiple sensors --- such as airborne warning and control systems (AWACS), satellites and a fighter’s own AESA radar --- fusing data to present a comprehensive picture of the air battle in a cockpit arrangement that is amongst the world’s most pilot-friendly.

With combat performance similar, the choice between the F-16 and Gripen E could boil down, as IAF boss, Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha said last month, to two factors --- procurement and operating cost, and technology transfer."



These points are very important.

Personally, I think Gripen will be selected.

Codename 47 said...

Will it be govt to govt deal or tender type competition?
Govt should rather come up with a policy defining cases where military procurement will be made by govt to govt deals.They may include equipments of urgent or strategic requirement.

Anonymous said...

It's Fort Worth, not Forth Worth. You made the same mistake in the F-16 post and I thought it was an accident, but apparently not. And it was David who looked to slay Goliath, not the other way around - an unnecessary (and unsuccessful) attempt at literary flair. Get someone to check your grammar and writing style. If you're going to write, you might as well be good at it.

Anonymous said...

There was am argument by all commentators that IAF would be heavy aircraft biased if 126 Rafales were bought. I am glad this point has been addressed with the RFI specifically for single engined planes. Both the competitors are good in their way . IAF has already evaluated them , so technical ratings already exist. Any deal of this size will involve money and political angles. (I mean gain for the country)
Both aircraft have American engines, so US is a gainer anyway you see,
LCA is also based on American engines. We have come a long way when armed forces got american components removed from the equipment being delivered to us.
Let the guy who benefits india the most win.

Broadsword said...

@ Anonymous 04:15

Thanks for bringing that to my attention. Actually, earlier articles mention "Fort Worth", but sometimes sheer pressure of time lets the odd typo creeps in. However, I value alert and exacting readers like yourself who demand high standards.

Don't agree with your David and Goliath observation, though. Go back and read the story. As the chosen gladiators of their respective armies, both were looking to slay each other. I'll stay with the analogy.

Anonymous said...

Are there no other alternatives other than these two planes .f-16 is old and grippen is an lca competitor and both run on American engines .It's either way win win for American companies

Anonymous said...

Since the tender has just begun we should know the answer in 8-10 years.

/s

Anonymous said...

@ Broadsword 08:38

While you're right that both David and Goliath were representatives of their respective armies, Goliath was unchallenged for 40 days - David was the one who finally VOLUNTEERED to CHALLENGE Goliath. The story of David and Goliath is used to contrast a weaker, unconventional challenger and his stronger adversary. The story is a parable for the inevitable victory of good over evil against all odds. Unless you're implying that the Gripen is the righteous winner of this race (your opinion), the analogy is misapplied.

In it's secular form, the saying is always phrased as a David challenging a Goliath to indicate the unlikely odds. Rephrased as "Saab, the Swedish David, looks to slay the US Goliath, Lockheed Martin," your sentence would express the sentiment appropriately. Goliaths don't challenge; they don't need to, they're already at the top.

Anonymous said...

Build lca.. No need for gripen or f 16
1000 cheap n potent lcas are going to add more teeth than gripen or f 16 can provide

victor raj said...

LCA tejas needs more tot. It needs a lot of improvements to be at current standards. Without tot its going to take another 100 years for tejas to equal gripen e. Making an aircraft that can rejoin a battle within minutes is no easy task.

Anonymous said...

Colonel saab, any comments on this - http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/defence/iafs-plan-to-replace-ailing-mig-with-make-in-india-combat-aircraft-heading-for-trouble/articleshow/54987491.cms? The usual dirty tricks already started?

Thulasi ram Valleru said...

Another point to be noted with f-16 production in India. Lockheed encourages vendors and sub vendor environment in India. That gives a chance to grow the skills specific to the aircraft industrial environment.

Help with Tejas is also offered by the French companies and companies from foreign nationals. But one advantage would be with sensor fusion expertise from Gripen.

It's a tough choice and we just can speculate but we don't know a lot can change from now to the date of final choice being made. Geopolitics change....