Innovations built to last
It’s hard to imagine that the smartphone in your pocket has anything in common with Gripen, one of the most modern fighters in aviation history. But they have more similarities between them than meets the eye.
Both rely on technology that can be upgraded and updated without the need for costly replacement, to ensure continual performance at optimal levels. And both have been developed with built-in flexibility, allowing the original product to evolve and to be customised to meet the changing needs of the user.
We try to keep the software for Gripen as generic as possible. By having generic software and generic computers that aren’t dependent on each other, it’s much easier to upgrade software.
The same way that you download apps for your smartphone that fit your individual preferences, with Gripen, software adaptations can be made to address new and evolving types of threats.
The ability to customise the functionality of the fighter to address future needs is due to the adaptability of the advanced Avionics Platform Software (APS) architecture that is embedded in Gripen software.
Avionics platform software architecture
Thousands of hours have been spent developing the many thousands of lines of code that together make the avionics software for the latest generation of
Gripen, Gripen E. But it’s not a static process. As the technology becomes increasingly advanced, Gripen is evolving with it.
“Changes are very rapid on the software side,” explains Daniela Ivanic, Project Manager, Avionics Platform Software at Saab.
By designing the avionics architecture for Gripen to separate flight critical functions; the functions that ensure the safety and security of pilots, from mission critical functions; which include intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, as well as communication, radio and navigation systems for combat and peacekeeping operations, mission functions can be upgraded without having to retest safety critical functions.
“We try to keep the software for Gripen as generic as possible. By having generic software and generic computers that aren’t dependent on each other, it’s much easier to upgrade software. For instance, when integrating new functionality or a new weapons system, the protocols are standardised. That way we don’t need to upgrade the computers as well,” says Ivanic.
The avionics architecture also enables the integration of tailor-made customer applications, and it reduces the risk of the system becoming obsolete. Almost any weapon can be integrated thanks to the flexible avionic architecture, giving the fighter very high weapon flexibility. One of the great benefits of the avionics architecture design is the customisation level of the software.
“We can either add new functionality by developing new software applications to run on current hardware; the existing avionics computers. Or slightly adapt the current platform software to upgrade the hardware for performance. We don’t necessarily have to change both. The fighter won’t be spending a lot of time on the ground for time consuming requalification of the entire aircraft, so it’s available for the next mission quickly."
The separated avionics architecture in Gripen E is certified to the highest software technicality level. In software terms, this means that Gripen E is the most secure fighter system on the market.
It’s the inside that counts
Like the smartphone, the software is the most important feature of the future proof fighter. Daniela Ivanic explains how Gripen is adapted to new technology and new threats without investments in new hardware.
Software testing and development
Continual testing of the software follows strict processes, using manual as well as automated tests. “Testing is an important part of what we do. Being able to see the simulation of a real flight, with the system up and running in the simulators and seeing exactly what the pilot would see, is invaluable to the process,” Daniela Ivanic says.
All testing is performed with the help of flight simulators and the certification standards for software used in airborne systems and equipment certification.
“In many ways, testing is also software development. Ten years ago, you sat with applications and followed multiple steps in system testing. Today you are developing software tests to do the same thing. Now as we develop Gripen, we are also becoming a software company because we are continuously developing new software to meet and fit our current, as well as future needs."
Since the first flight of Gripen E in June 2017, the software platform has been updated. In addition to tweaking the hardware and the hardware performance, all of the Gripen E computers have also been updated.
“The basics of the platform that were in the first flight edition are still there, but we’ve added so many new functions that we have basically updated the total system,” explains Ivanic.
“We now have the complete context of Gripen E, and we can show how fast we can update something. It’s so important to be able to describe the total offer; not just the first addition,” she says.
As further artificial intelligence enhancements and adaptive machine learning capabilities are considered, the tactical agility and ability to adapt future technologies will be built in from the start, and new functionality areas for Gripen will be possible to incorporate with ease.