Monday, 25 February 2013

More Myths and Misconceptions: The Gripen's range.

I will continue to expand existing pages of this blog as time goes by.  The "Myths and Misconceptions" page will likely see the most action, as certain truths are revealed and more information comes available.

The Gripen's perceived short range seems to be its its greatest weakness, along with its single engine.  I've already addressed the fiction of single engines being dangerous in this day and age, so I will now address criticism about the Gripen's range.

"The Gripen has too short a range!"

Saab's presentation slide on the Gripen NG's range.

It seems the biggest complaint about the Gripen is that it is too small with too short of a range to be any good for Canada.  There is some basis for this, as the early A and B versions of the Gripen were built solely with Sweden's defence needs in mind.  The later C and D version were built with export sales in mind, adding more NATO compatible hardware and a inflight refuelling probe.  The NG versions modify the Gripen's airframe slightly to allow 40% more fuel to be carried internally, along with improved external tanks capable of holding 450 gallons of fuel each.

With a single 290 gallon external tank, the Gripen E has a combat radius of 1300km.  That is 200 more than the F-35.  Admittedly, the F-35's figure is based on internal fuel only, but the Gripen has the option of dropping its tank once it is empty, as well as flying without it if the range isn't needed.  Equipped with a full load of external tanks, the Gripen E's range is superior to a similarly equipped Super Hornet, and close behind that of the Typhoon and Rafale.  External tanks for the F-35 have been proposed, yet not yet developed or tested.

Not enough?  There are still two more options.

Artist's rendering of a Gripen with CFTs and towed decoys.

  1. Conformal Fuel Tanks (CFTs).  These have already been developed for legacy fighters like the F-15 and F-16, as well as being currently developed for the Eurofighter Typhoon.  CFTs attach to an aircraft providing additional fuel, and in some cases, additional weapon or equipment stations.  They add minimal extra drag, weight, and radar cross section, but can only be removed at base rather than simply dropped like other external tanks.  Although the Gripen currently has no CFT option, this would be a great Canadian contribution to the program and would likely see foreign interest.
  2. A Gripen ER (Extended Range).  Reader Joe Svatt recently e-mailed me with an interesting proposition.  If range is truly an issue, Canada could procure a single seat version of the normally-two-seat Gripen F.  Instead of being used for a co-pilot, that extra space could instead be used for fuel storage.  I'm not sure if this would cause problems with weight or safety issues, or if the single-seat Gripen's cannon could be mounted on the usually gunless Gripen F, but it certainly adds an additional option that should be more than enough to quiet the critics.
For those still unconvinced that the Gripen's range is enough for Canada:  It is far superior to Canada's current CF-18 fleet, with tanks and without.  Also, the Gripen can also be refuelled by Canada's current CC-150 Polaris tanker, something that the F-35 won't be able to do.


  1. I was under the impression that the two-seater F version was going to have slightly less fuel capacity to accommodate the second seat.

    1. The two-seater B, D, and F models have slightly longer fuselages along with deleting the Mauser cannon and reducing internal fuel.

      I'm not sure what the exact fuel numbers would be, but freeing up all the space and weight taken up by the ejection seat, life support, etc. and replacing it with fuel would likely more than make up the difference. I think CFTs would be a far simpler and more likely solution, but I present the idea because Mr. Svatt came up with a novel idea and to illustrate that there are possible solutions other than strapping more external tanks.

      Personally, I think the range argument should be put to bed. The Gripen C's range is similar to the CF-18, and the Gripen E's range would exceed that of Canada's current Hornet. That, combined with its ability to carry more fuel externally should prove more than sufficient, especially compared to the F-35 with its so far non-existent drop tanks and aerial refuelling problems.

  2. I don't understand why people put the Gripen down because of its size. If your looking for the best fighter plane smaller is better. They tend to be lighter which makes them more nimble. They are harder to see and will have a lower IR signature. If bigger was better than a 747 or airbus A380 would be some of the best fighters in the world.

    Now if a country wants a good medium range bomber being a little larger helps, like the F-15E or F-111. But don't expect these things to out fight a Gripen or Eurofighter.

    The idea of making a plane that can do everything is a flawed and terrible idea. It has never worked. The F-111 was suppose to do this and the program was a failure. Some people like to point at the F-4 and say that was good program. The thing is the F-4 was designed for the navy, prove to be a good air-frame so was adopted by the Air force as well.

    Another line of thought is that all air combat will be Beyond Visual Range (BVR). They also had this idea back in the 60's and that didn't work out to well for american pilots. Due to rules of engagement that have existed in almost all conflicts since WW2, all aircraft must be positively identified before firing. The other problem is the low percentage of actual kills in BVR combat.

    An air-force comprised of Gripens and UCAV's would work the best. The Gripen takes care of air to air,still with a pretty good bombing capability and the UCAV's doing the most dangerous bombing missions.

    1. You are absolutely right.

      Size matters when it comes to bombers, but even that mentality is falling by the wayside thanks to precision guided munitions. It's simply better to take out an enemy communication hub or runway with a well placed cruise missile instead of carpet bombing a highly populated factory town.

      For both political and practical reasons, Canada doesn't need a "bomb truck". Canada needs a fighter to protect our airspace and provide support for our troops on the ground. It's not our style to perform strike missions deep into enemy territory or perform "preemptive" strike.

      The only real advantage a bigger fighter could offer Canada is range. Smaller fighters can easily make up that range using external tanks and aerial refuelling.

    2. Another misconception is that small fighter necessarily has low range. But single-engined fighters typically have better drag coefficient (better thrust-to-drag ratio at identical thrust-to-weight ratio); this plus higher fuel fraction can more than make up for smaller total fuel capacity.

  3. Hi there!

    Just dropping a link to a Swiss blog metioning development of their Gripen E purchase.. it's in French, so you might need to translate it though.. enjoy!

  4. Range is definitely a prime concern for Canada. No matter, which plane you chose, Canada should develop conformal fuel tanks. They extend the range of the aircraft without increasing its drag considerably.

    The idea is not very original, but for some reason, noone has ever been able to design conformal fuel tanks, which can be jetisoned during flight. This would give you a fighter with a great range but - if he's gotta fight- the plane can drop the conformal fuel tanks, such that there is no penalty in terms of weight and drag of the aircraft. Maybe Bombardier could do it. If it works you could probably sell the fuel tanks to partnering nations, but Canada's industry would have to solve some major technical problems.

    1. I'm not sure if jettison-able CFTs would work, or if it would be worth the trouble over regular CFTs or drop tanks.

      From what I've read, CFTs are quite a pain to install or remove on the F-15, and would likely be even more difficult on those jets like the F-16 and Typhoon where they are mounted over the wing and fuselage.

      Fortunately, CFTs add very little extra drag, and add very little weight when empty. The performance gained by dropping them may not even be worth it. Also, CFTs can be used to house additional equipment and weapon hard points.

      If Canada were to develop CFTs for the Gripen, I would suggest they also include a semi-conformal BVR missile (AMRAAM or Meteor) hard point, and perhaps a built in LITENING or recce pod. With such a setup, a CFT equipped Gripen could be cleaner aerodynamically than a similar equipped standard model.