Saab held its annual Gripen seminar earlier this month, and during the rather brief presentation a couple of interesting points surfaced.
To begin with, Saab seems very confident regarding future exports, aiming to be the market leader in their segment. They have successfully competed and won against both ends of the spectrum, F-16C/D in Europe and F-35/Rafale/Eurofighter in Brazil, and especially the latter has placed the Gripen on the map as a serious contender. A couple of new opportunities in Europe are evident in the form of Croatia and Bulgaria looking for a replacement to their small forces of updated Soviet-era fighters, with the Swedish state being in the later stages of discussions regarding eight Gripens to Slovakia. As noted earlier on the blog, Saab has a number of half-assembled 39C/D’s, to facilitate fast deliveries exactly for this kind of orders. While no orders have yet been signed, it seems clear that the earlier programs to Hungary and the Czech Republic for very similar orders have provided good references. In Asia, a number of countries including Malaysia and Indonesia (“Don’t believe everything you read in the news”) are also very active.
More surprisingly, India seems to be a very hot topic, especially after the top-level diplomatic visit by the Swedish prime minister earlier this year. Saab declined to say if the Indian interest is a restarted MMRCA-competition, a smaller stop-gap order similar to the Rafale-order currently in discussions, or Sea Gripens for the Indian carrier(s), stating that the next step is up to the customer. Sea Gripen is very much alive, and preliminary studies have been concluded. If India would suddenly lose interest in the MiG-29K and/or the (as yet paperplane) naval Tejas, there obviously is a possibility to start the product development phase with India as launch customer, either singly or in unison with Brazil. These are more or less the only two countries that might have a serious interest in buying a foreign conventional take-off carrier fighter.
An interesting comment was also made with regards to the Finnish HX-program, where Saab said they expected it to be in the 40+ aircraft category. From the preliminary work report we know that the air force would want a 1:1 replacement of the current fleet (57 fighters and 7 two-seat conversion aircraft), but we also know that the RFI will be covering “differently sized packages”. So far those in the know have declined to specify what this would mean in practice, and it might be that this was the first concrete indication about what the smaller package might mean.
If the air force would be shrunk to 40 fighters, it would be a huge blow. As the preliminary report noted, the current size is already dictated by economics and not operational needs, and it would diminish the air force’s warfighting ability dangerously much.