Gripen: Transcending Generations
The fifth generation of fighter aircraft was defined in the 1980s and was characterized by an emphasis on positional awareness and stealth. However, it’s been quite a while since then, and the focus has gradually shifted from overtly relying on stealth and tactical positioning to Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, collectively grouped as ISR capabilities. Since the Gripen E/F is being developed to have these capabilities, and with several advanced software features that are considered breakthroughs in defence, Bill Sweetman of Aviation Week had argued that it could well be called a sixth generation fighter.
Explaining some of the key concepts of Gripen evolution in a recent interview with HushKit, Richard Smith, Head of Gripen Marketing, points out that the pace of technology probably makes the concept of “generations” redundant: “We have understood that the future of air combat is going to be defined by technology – and we have built a system that truly adapts and embraces new technologies in a way that will keep us ahead of 21st century threats – fast. This is achieved through our deep and long experiences in sensor fusion and a revolutionary avionics system. For me, it means that the talk of generations, I hear so much of from within the industry just no longer means anything at all. The technology we have now, the ideas Saab engineers are working on, ensure that Gripen quite literally transcends all generations.”
About Gripen’s thrust-to-weight ratio, Smith says that it is certainly enough. “The design of the aircraft makes it very slick, compare it to a hot knife cutting through butter.” And he points out that, in any case, modern air warfare is not as dependent on turn and burn fights any longer. According to Smith, “A modern warfare jet, like Gripen E, is designed to be SMARTER than the threat. With technology moving at such high pace, our philosophy is to ensure the platform is equipped with new software/hardware, in line with the high speed of technology enhancements. Technology will win the future fight. Gripen is equipped with many modern sensor systems, but why is it so good? Because, Saab excels at sensor fusion, and information interpretation, ensuring the aircraft, sensors and the pilot work as one, no longer just together. To meet this capability, Saab has designed an entirely new, some say revolutionary Avionics architecture.”
Smith also talks about meteor which Gripen was the first fighter to carry operationally. “Meteor does have a “significant range”, and very high “no escape” zone. It also has ram-jet propulsion and data-link communication. Gripen E is designed to be able to carry 7 Meteors. The current Swedish Air Force Chief has described the weapon and new radar performance of the Gripen C as “game-changing”. Gripen C, which is operational in Sweden now, is flying operations with Meteor, and can carry 4 missiles. Gripen E can be equipped with 7 Meteors, 4 on the wings and 3 under the centre fuselage.”
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