Choose the Gripen : Who & Why ?

(This is a re-publication of an article dated 28th Jan. 2013)

On first, this article is focused on western aircraft & market, considering that :

  • West is currently the worldwide reference in term of aerospace systems
  • Western markets (incl. pro-west nations) is the wider market
  • Western aircraft usually participate to « hard » bids, facing to aggressive contenders (which is less the case for « non-west-oriented » nations)
  • Secondly, I will not speak here about aircraft characteristics, considering that :

  • This article is not, and would never be, an evaluation but a « geo-strategy« 
  • Evaluation is subjective, depending of each nation’s aims & priorities (which are usually specified and detailed in the deal)
  • Aircraft characteristics might change through the different upgrades (and sometimes some equipment)
  • Based on that, what is the question that this article tries to answer :
    Is the Gripen simply a low-cost aircraft, or is it an adapted answer to a market demand ?

    On first, we must admit that #Gripen is :

  • A robust #aircraft
  • With single engine
  • And an average range of action
  • With proven Multi-Role capabilities
  • And continuous / on-demand developments
  • A ‘low-cost’ solution on purchase
  • With potential offset
  • And a reduced life-time cost
  • However, it is also :

  • A « less-capable » aircaft (compared to current other western aircraft)
  • With a short range of action
  • A reduced weapon capacity (in term of tons)
  • Without carrier-based capability
  • Designed by 3rd-rank nation (Sweden) which has not all the strengh to support additional development alone
  • A « less-capable » low-cost aircraft only ?

    If we compare to other western aircraft, Gripen is mainly « less-capable », but a product might not be compared to others, but to the market needs.

    Does it match with a market ?

    There is lot of factors that influence the definition of a requirement and the selection of its winner.
    If we avoid both corruption, ‘political influences’ and economical dependency, we get 5 main factors :

  • Corruption & political influence
  • Economical dependendy
  • Strategical preference & international relationship
  • International position & aims (either regional and over-sea)
  • Home-based aerospace industry
  • Size of the country
  • Gross Domestic Product
  • Based on that criterias, we can classify nations through 4 main categories :

    1. The « 1st Rank » nations, that « lead » the world
    2. The other « Main Nations » that are enough strong and play an international role
    3. An « Economical Ring » and a « Regional Leaders Ring » which contains nations with a high GDP or that lead a region
    4. « Small Nations » (in term of international influence)

    Each of these 4 categories is linked to a kind of usual market : (see the graph)

    Note : Some nations might change of category (i.e: Switzerland, which might not be considered as a ‘high-GDP’ nation anymore), or be accross 2 categories due to some specifics aspects.

    Now, if we compare these markets to current aircraft offers, we can see that, mainly, Gripen is tipically designed for « small nations » market : (table below)

    On this market, there are 3 contenders only :

  • The Gripen (Sweden)
  • The F-16 (US)
  • The Mirage 2000 (France), whose Dassault stopped its production in 2006.
  • Reminder : focused on western aircraft only. Refer to initial hypotheses for more information about this « filter ».

    As I said, I will not compare aircraft performance. However, both Gripen and F-16 have order-winners (depending of each Customer nations) :

  • Offsets & Technologies Transfers
  • @Saab proposes flexible and customized offsets & technologies transfers in its Gripen offers. This might interrest some nations, but offset also means counter-value in acquisition cost.
    On its side, as F-16 is now considered as ‘outdated’ by US. Due to that, bids can contains offset & non-critical technologies transfers.

  • Further Developments
  • Gripen developments are mainly supported by customers, in link with their own wishes. That means that customers have to finance partially or totally these developments.
    Gripen might suffer of this uncapability to anticipate the market requirements. However, it is also a strong opportunity for the customer to be included in the aircraft workshare.

    In other hand, Lockheed Martin is able to conduct new developments on its own funds in line with the market trends in order to keep the F-16 competitive and anticipate potential bids.
    These anticipated developments allow Lockheed Martin to continue to propose ‘off-the-shelf’ solutions and let more flexibility concerning the management of the return on investment.

  • The homeland
  • This is certainly the greatest order-winner of the Gripen :
    Even F-16 can count on the support of US international influence (either politically and economically), Gripen is from a western neutral nation :
    Sweden is a European Union member, but not a NATO’s (note: NATO partner only).

    In this context, Gripen offers lot of advantages that can be resumed in 2 things :

    1. An alternative [*] to a clear affiliation to a 1st-rank nation (US, Russia, China) or the EU
    2. An opportunity for nations of eastern Europe to develop their relations with the Union

    [*] Is considered as an alternative while, in fact, instead of Rafale case, Gripen currently use several US components ; however, Gripen offsets are opportunity to saab to try to end this dependency.

    Conclusion :

  • Gripen appears to « small nations » as a great opportunity :
    1. A robust & reliable ‘combat proven’ Multi-Role aircraft
    2. Whose characteristics match with the needs
    3. For an affordable cost compare to the performances
    4. With the possibility of flexible & customized offsets and/or co-operation
    5. And an alternative for a non-affiliation to a 1st-rank nation

    … And several nations already made that choice (instead of its 2 other european contenders).
    Several others nations (Denmark, Croatia…) expressed their strong interest for it.

  • Saab clearely identified and understood its strengths and weaknesses :
    1. To highlight to Customers their win-win opportunities and make them order-winners
    2. To promote the offsets to support Gripen developments
    3. And select new Customers-based suppliers in order to reduce its dependency to US and reinforce its ‘alternative’ position
    4. And extend partnership to improve the synergy and prepare the Gripen future

    The current feedback around the Gripen is giving right to Saab’s strategy.

  • However, this challenge is not out of risks :
    1. Create a complex and inefficient partnership
    2. Deploy several co-operations that might establish the Gripen out of its neutral position

    Good luck, Gripen !

    JM.

    Read more :

  • Gripen Fighter System by Saab
  • Wikipedia
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