LONDON — Following its first operational deployment of fighters as part of the NATO-led Libya campaign, the Swedish military is assessing what improvements in equipment and processes need to be made for future deployments of the fighter.
Although Swedish air force officials are generally satisfied with their Libya experience, in which they logged more than 650 sorties, equipment and training lessons have emerged. One of the main ones is addressing a quirk in how the “Have Quick” secure radio on Gripen functions, to assure it can be used properly in the NATO system, says Maj. Anders Gustafsson, who served as the acting squadron leader for FL02, the second rotation of Gripens to Sigonella, Sicily.
During Libya operations, the Gripens, although equipped with Have Quick, could not tie into NATO’s secure network, forcing pilots to be the only ones to operate unsecured and use code words to exchange orders.
The problem was that NATO was using the “training” rather than “operational” Have Quick network, but with operational security keys. On Gripen, when it recognized the operational security keys, it automatically switched the radio to the operational network. A fix should be ready next year, Gustafsson notes.
The robustness of some of the equipment also needs to improve. For instance, the reconnaissance pods used in Afghanistan were early equipment sets, creating some reliability problems, Gustafsson says. The system also needs to be upgraded with an infrared sensor capability and real-time data relay, he suggests, which are planned.
Also, the Gripens suffered because it took time to get the cryptological kit for the fighters, even though Swedish personnel were cleared for the equipment. Danish and Norwegian air force officers aided the Swedish in clearing that hurdle, as well as in providing access to key information such as the air-tasking order that was being withheld in the opening phase of the deployment.
Overall, though, Gustafsson says the experience validated many elements of the Gripen system. “The human-machine interface is really good,” he says, with the various inputs from the radar, laser designator pod, electronic warfare system and other subsystems providing “really good situational awareness.”
Still, other enhancements are being looked for, such as expanding Link-16 functionality to the air-to-ground role, which should materialize next year. Other planned enhancements to improve situational awareness include the fielding of a helmet-mounted display, also likely to take place late next year, and cockpit upgrades to better display information such as the air coordination order.
Sweden also needs to verify the accuracy of its Litening III laser designator pod on Gripen. So far, the Gripens can use the pod on their own, but not to hand-off targets because the accuracy validation has not taken place.
Gustafsson says an expanding weapons set, including a Small-Diameter Bomb, also is on the agenda.
Another focus area is the need to boost air-to-air training, Gustafsson says. The location of the Gripen refueling probe somewhat behind the pilot means extra training will be required to become comfortable with the process. It also means greater access to the Swedish air force’stanker, which itself was still in its demonstration phase during the Libya operation.