|Is something cheesy is going on?|
Things have not been made easier by the leaked release of a unflattering report of the Gripen in a competition between it, the Dassault Rafale, and the Eurofighter Typhoon. In it, the Gripen was deemed inferior to the other two, and given a "failing grade" as to meeting the Swiss Luftwaffe's requirements for a new air-defense fighter.
"Given by its design, the endurance, aircraft performances and aircraft weapon load were among the main limiting factors of the Gripen."The report goes on to praise the Rafale, but states that even the Eurofighter Typhoon falls short. This is understandable, as the Typhoon's ground attack capabilities were still being developed.
But how did the Saab Gripen win the competition when it didn't even meet the requirements?
First of all, the "fly-off" was in the 2007-2008 timeframe. The variant tested, the JAS 39C and JAS 39D were not the "NG" E/F models with upgraded engines, payload, fuel capacity, and IRST. In fact, even the C/D Gripens of the time were not yet ready for GPS (JDAM) and laser-guided (Paveway) bomb delivery. This ability was not added until 2009, a factor that most definitely hurt its rating amongst Swiss pilots. Additionally, the Gripen C's lower power-to-weight ratio, lower payload, and shorter range were brought up as weak points.
Since then, things have changed. Saab has progressed on its "NG" Gripen E and F designs with a more powerful engine, AESA radar, IRST, over 40% more internal fuel, heavier payload, and additional weapon hardpoints. The Saab Gripen E has been declared the next Swiss fighter, based on the NG improvements made and demonstrated on the Gripen NG Demo.
Swiss defense minister Ueli Maurer defended the Gripen choice after the release of the leaked report stating the the Gripen E met with all the established criteria and that the report itself was obsolete and outdated.
Even Swiss Air Force General Marcus Gygax, who authored the controversial report initially supporting the Rafale, has come out in support of the Gripen, stating:
"In the meantime, the aircraft was developed. Planned further developments, where they had been sceptical at first had, meanwhile, proved to be more likely". (Translated)In the end, the Gripen E was declared the winner based on its value and low operating cost compared to the others. The additional risks involved with selecting a fighter still in development were considered worth it, especially considering the Swedish government was willing to make guarantees towards price and performance.
|It's still happening... I think?|
A large government expenditure is almost always likely to be controversial. Switzerland is certainly no exception. After making an agreement in principle to acquire the Saab Gripen, the purchase needed to meet approval with the Swiss senate for the increased military funding to pay for the purchase.
On March 5, 2013, the Swiss Senate approved the Gripen purchase with 22 votes for, 20 against, 1 abstaining, and 2 absent. Without an absolute majority, the purchase was approved... But not the funding. This hasn't stopped the deal, but instead debate continues and the matter may now go to referendum.
It should be noted that Switzerland has an almost pathological history of difficult fighter purchases. Including a similar referendum needed to approve the F/A-18 purchase in the 80s and a scandal over the Dassault Mirage in the 1960s. There is even a relatively large political movement that believes Switzerland should not be purchasing a fighter jet of any type.
Will the Swiss Gripen delay spell doom for the Gripen E/F? Unlikely. The Swiss purchase is still almost inevitable, and it would be hard to argue against the Gripen's long term costs when compared to the Typhoon and Rafale. The Swedish government is still committed and additional export sales to countries like Brazil look promising.
Where does Canada fit into all of this? It is thought that Switzerland's commitment to 22 Gripen Es, along with Sweden's decision to upgrade its Gripen fleet, is enough to make the Gripen NG program sustainable. With a planned purchase of 65-80 new fighter jets, a Canadian Gripen order would not only secure the future of the program, but possibly speed up development and improve the future outlook of the Gripen even further. This may lead Saab to market the Gripen very aggressively in a Canadian bid, leading to lower costs and improved industrial offsets for Canada.