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How Gripen Achieved a Low Life Cycle Cost -1

4 min read

This part on how Gripen achieved a low life cycle cost looks at how the thinking behind the design itself took into account different aspects of cost management during the lifetime of an aircraft. This piece is based on A Journey of Change in the Aircraft Industry by Martin Hjelm och Saab AB 2016

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The selection of a fighter aircraft system is strategic in its nature and has long-term implications for the nation. The selected solution should be the one that during several decades delivers most air power capability to protect the nation and bring regional security. A traditional approach to merely evaluate current product performance against lowest acquisition cost is inadequate to meet those objectives. The systems total performance must be sustained on a level that will meet and handle any current- and future threats for decades to come. Hence the assessment of inherent ability to quickly, cost-effectively and continuously upgrade the system is crucial.

Given that the acquisition cost of an aircraft is a fraction of the cost of operating, maintaining and upgrading an aircraft, the key consideration for most air forces today is life cycle cost. That cost jreally looks at the full spectrum of cost beyond aircraft fly-away costs, non-recurring costs and role equipment. The basket of costs range from Mission support equipment, training devices; cost of training pilots and crew, logistics costs, spares (repairables and consumables costs), ground support equipment, technical publications and information and, of course, cost per flight hour. A total life cycle cost package would include operational (fuel, consumables,) and support (O/I/D-level maintenance and reprovisioning and design support) cost. In addition, factor in the Upgrade cost – the cost levels of standardized sets of software and hardware updates over the systems life cycle.

It is important to understand that low LCC is a matter of operational readiness, not just a budget aspect. The performance of the aircraft is just one factor of success. The other is how much time the pilots have training on the aircraft to prepare for combat. The higher the cost of keeping the aircraft in the air, less likely that pilots would get enough time in perfecting their command over the system.

So, how did Saab look at achieving a low life cycle cost?

At Saab, the process of lowering life cycle cost is embedded from the very beginning in the design of the fighter itself. When designing system solutions for entire aircraft materiel systems, an understanding of the operational requirements for the product that is, the characteristics, capabilities and performance the product must deliver, is of great importance. It is also essential to understand how the design solutions affect the maintenance and support costs incurred by the customer, since they greatly affect maintenance needs and complexity and therefore the life-cycle costs of the entire materiel system throughout the product life cycle.

Historically, the military aircraft industry has separated the development of the technical system, with the reliability and maintainability of the aircraft on one side and the maintenance precision of the maintenance system on the other. Once the design of the aircraft is complete, this has often resulted in discovering after the fact that the maintenance products and maintenance solutions are complicated and expensive for the customer. The customer has required a more complex organisation with more expensive maintenance and thereby higher life-cycle costs.

Consequently, this working procedure is not best practice for creating systems with low life-cycle costs. On the other hand, it may well be the case that development of the actual aircraft is more cost effective when there is no need to incorporate and consider all aspects of the customer's operational activities. All manufacturers of military aircraft have traditionally focused mainly on the development of the aircraft's tactical performance, functions and characteristics. Operation and maintenance design and the maintenance system the customer is to use in its operational environment have not received as high a priority.

At Saab Aeronautics, however, high operational reliability and low life-cycle costs have been a major focus for many years, much due to great emphasis being placed on these characteristics already during the pilot study phase and development of the Gripen. This has been implemented together with the customer by establishing an operational reliability programme to heighten awareness. This cooperation has resulted in dependability, maintainability and maintenance precision being strong contributory factors to the Gripen's outstanding system efficiency and low operation and maintenance costs.

By actively evaluating design alternatives early on, one creates the opportunity to choose solutions that lay the foundation for future cost efficiency and an overall low life-cycle cost.