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Gripen on roadbase Vidsel

Gripen Designed for Dispersed Air Basing System

Adding to the handful of interesting origin stories of the Gripen fighter, right from its name to its engine, Gripen's STOL capabilities are also said to have a direct correlation with SwAF's austere basing system during the Cold War.

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A recent report by Flight Global delves deeper into how a huge part of Gripen's design and capabilities has been influenced by an air basing strategy called the Bas 90 system.

The Bas 90 system, a tactic devised by the Swedish Air Force during the Cold War, was used to disperse fighters throughout the territory, making it difficult and costly for the enemy to make ground or surprise attacks. As explained in a 1986 documentary, attacking aircraft on ground becomes more difficult if individual flightlines and runways over large areas are positioned far apart from each other.

The report also adds that if aircraft like F-35 and F-22 were to use the dispersed operations tactic, things would be more challenging, owing to the extensive maintenance, repair and overhaul systems both the aircraft demand. However, that is not the case with Gripen. From the very beginning, Sweden had intended to have Gripen fighters operating from austere air bases. Hence, Gripen is easy to maintain, is cost efficient, and has the flexibility to take off from small air strips enhancing its operational effect.

Gripen’s unparalleled STOL capabilities

Gripen E can take off in strips of road that are only 16m wide 500m long and can land in a 600m long road, without any tailhook or brake chute. This capability also allows the fighter to take off from small taxiways, small civil airfields or highways. A Gripen can also taxi using its own power to flightline positions for maintenance, refuelling and rearming, with the help of limited crew members. Gripen was designed for a minimal turnaround time - tasks like refuelling and rearming do not take more than 10 minutes, further increasing the operability and availability of the fighter.

Gripen was given a canard in order to be able to land on short airstrips and also to increase manoeuvrability. The canard, along with the wheel brakes, help Gripen to stop quickly after landing. “We use the canard and the wing rudders to create aerodynamic downforce to make the brakes more effective,” says Eddy de la Motte, head of the business unit for Saab Gripen E/F.

By making Gripen self-contained, the need for a large number of ground support equipment was eliminated. For example, the aircraft uses an auxiliary power unit, handles many of its start-up systems, and also performs diagnostic checks internally.

Other small functional details like the master arm switch for weapon system checks, access panels that can be opened and closed with the push of button latches, bolts that can be removed to detach the engine while disconnecting the fuel, hydraulic lines, and more, have been designed to save time on the ground and make missions last for a longer period of time.

Although Sweden gradually relaxed its air basing strategy at the end of the Cold War, the recent years have seen a renewed focus on the Bas 90 system as a way of embracing international co-operation with neighboring countries and NATO allies.

“Design requirements in terms of dispersed basing have stayed the same throughout the years,” adds de la Motte.

Read the full story here.