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Highways as Runways? Here is How Gripen Leads the Way

3 min read

For decades, with or without an ongoing armed conflict, air bases and their surrounding areas have been considered vulnerable across the globe. The risk of an air base attack has gone higher with the advent of high-tech innovations including IED dropping drones.

Gripen E - Highways as runways

One approach to handle this is dispersed operations; military aircraft operating from far-flung areas, hence reducing the chances of getting detected all at once. Working on the same concept, the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) has converted a 3km section of Satta-Gandhav stretch of NH-925 into a temporary runway where the IAF fighters can land during an emergency, reports The Week.

The report also highlights the role of Sweden in pioneering the concept of dispersed operations. While a non-aligned nation, since the 1950s, Sweden built a strong air force given worries about the intentions of the Soviet Union. All Swedish fighter aircraft built since the 1950s—the Saab J-35 Draken, J-37 Viggen and JAS-39 Gripen—were designed to be capable of operating from highways, the report says.

Saab’s Gripen fighter, with its Short Take-off and Landing (STOL) capabilities, can take off from regular roads that are only 16m wide and 500m long, and land on a 600m long road. The fighter’s canards especially help with the manoeuvrability by increasing its angle of attack and have more lift at slower speeds during landing. They, along with the wing rudders, create an aerodynamic downforce to make the breaks more effective during STOL.

But just the STOL capabilities are not enough for effective operations at remote locations. During dispersed operations, a fighter also needs to be serviced without the availability of complex airbase facilities where everything is readily available. Gripen has been designed to offer minimal turnaround time – only a few conscripts can refuel, re-arm and prepare the fighter for the next flight. Other factors that ensure easy maintenance of Gripen include hot refueling capability, quick replacement of LRUs, and internal sensors that alarm the pilot for a part replacement.

"Air base attacks may or may not determine the outcome of a war these days. But they are worrisome. The long range, highly effective missiles of today, along with UAVs, put precious human lives at risk. A modern air force must secure its air bases by spreading out and operating from multiple locations. A fighter which supports dispersed operations is the need of the hours," says Mats Palmberg, Head of Gripen India campaign.

Read the full story here.