Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Gripen E/F and CF-18 Comparison: Can the Gripen do the Hornet's job?

CF-18 and JAS-39F

When compared to each other, the "Five Fighters" being considered for Canada's CF-18 replacement all have their strengths and weaknesses.  I've tried my best to put these all in perspective, and each are looked at in detail in the links available at the top of the page, as well as a comparison table.

But how does the Gripen compare to the CF-18 specifically?  Does it provide the same level of performance?  Will a Canadian Gripen be able to perform the same role, and will it be as successful?  Let's look:

Is the Gripen as fast as the CF-18?
Yes.  Faster even.  The CF-18 is capable of mach 1.8.  The Gripen E will be capable of exceeding mach 2, but more importantly, will be capable of supercruise, the ability to go supersonic without afterburners (while still carrying weapons).

Can the Gripen use the same weapons?
Yes.  The Gripen E will be compatible with the AMRAAMs, Sidewinders, Mavericks, JDAMs, and other munitions used by the CF-18.  The Gripen will also be able to use some weapons, like the MBDA Meteor, that are currently unavailable to the CF-18.  The Gripen does use different ammo for its 27mm cannon, however.  Of the "Five Fighters" only the Super Hornet uses the same cannon ammunition.

Can the Gripen match the CF-18s payload?
The Gripen E actually exceeds the CF-18s maximum external payload.  The Gripen C carries slightly less.

What about sensors?
The Gripen E/F will carry a superior AESA radar, and will utilize a IRST (infrared search-and-track) system not currently available on the CF-18.  It will also be capable of carrying specialized FLIR and target designator pods.

Is the Gripen stealthier?
Although it is not marketed as a stealth aircraft, the Gripen's use of composite materials, as well as its smaller size, gives it a radar cross-section (RCS) about 1/5th the size of the CF-18.  It also has a smaller infrared signature thanks again to its smaller size and single engine.

What about range?
Depending on the amount of external tanks used, the Gripen E should either meet or exceed the CF-18's range.

Will the Gripen be able to refuel in mid-air?
All Gripens starting with the C model are compatible with Canada's current "probe-and-drogue" system.

Will the Gripen be able to operate from the same airbases as the Hornet?
For the most part.  While the Gripen lacks the CF-18's landing hook, it was designed to take off and land in less than 800m.  Instead of a landing hook, it uses its two canards as a type of air brake, increasing downward force, allowing the front landing gear brakes work better.  The Gripen landing gear is also suitable for landing of rougher surfaces.

Can the Gripen handle Canada's cold weather?
Sweden currently operates a Gripen squadron out of Luleå, which is located very close to the Arctic Circle. So, yes.

What about its safety record?
Since entering service in 1997, only 3 Gripen airframes have been lost, and to date, not a single pilot has been lost.  That is considerably better than the CF-18's record.  The CF-18 has been in service longer, but with less aircraft.

Will the Gripen be cheaper to operate?
This question is almost a given.  The CF-18s are reaching the end of their service life, and are due for replacement all over the globe.  Parts will become increasingly scarce, and the airframes themselves will require increasingly more maintenance as the structure becomes fatigued.  At this point, there is a point of diminishing returns, and any service life extension program (SLEP) would simply not be economical.

For the most part, a Gripen E/F should be able to perform the same duties as the CF-18A/B.  Better still, the Gripen E/F improves on almost every area of performance.


  1. Nice post. I believe that the Gripen C and Cf18 have about the same range right now with just internal fuel. The gripen E will have about 40% more than the c model. The gripen is also a less draggy aircraft, so it goes further on less gas.

  2. A small correction: (you don't need to publish this)
    The two canards create a downward force that allows the two front wheels to break much harder without locking or skidding. This is a much more important breaking factor than the added air resistance (which also helps of course)

    1. Thanks, I have made a change to reflect this.

    2. Actually the front wheels break power is compared to the main gear quite low. And therefor its possible for customers to buy the a/c without front breaks (reduce maintenance and complexity). The break distance is affected but still stay within requirements for a normal road.

      But i dont know how the a/c would stop if landing on pure ice, the Viggen was able to stop on every surface due to the reverse thrust (and actualy go backwars and turn around by itself, very nice when on dispersed operation).


  3. Worse than the F/A-18 performance of the Gripen, "including in its future version E / F" will remain in effect very "average", according to statements by Gerald Levrat to parliamentarians: "A bit like a knife that does not cut well. You can cut a string, but if it is harder, we'll make it harder. "In his fourth appearance before the Subcommittee, 24 April 2012, the project leader TTE Jürg Weber, meanwhile, has finally conceded that weaknesses in the Gripen require "perhaps a change of doctrine commitment."

    When today an F/A-18 takes off from Payerne and fly at full power to Davos, he still has enough fuel to operate on site. "With the Gripen, it can become tight, admitted Jürg Weber [...] And maybe it will patrol continuously over Davos to be able to intervene." But according to him, we certainly find solutions in order to fulfill this reasonably air policing mission, "although it will not be as effectively as other aircraft or the F/A-18."


    1. There is still plenty of controversy regarding the Swiss Gripen selection. It is important to remember that comments made about the Gripen at the time were pertaining to the C/D versions, as the NG was still in the planning stages at the time.

      At the end of the day, it was decided that the extra risk associated with the NG was worth it for the lower operating cost and sufficient performance.