Gripen NG procurement slips, but UAV effort advances
Take your pick: The Swiss government is either more practical than most in making major defense procurements, or is just as incapable as others in crafting a feasible strategy.
At issue are further revisions to the country's plan to field a new combat aircraft to replace the F-5 Tiger. Last year, the government opted for the, noting that while it might not be the most capable fighter available, it represented the best value for the money (the and were also in the running). The government also asked the defense ministry to explore ways to strengthen the program.
As a result, the Swiss air force is making another concession, sacrificing its desired schedule in the hopes of reducing risk. Rather than acting as the trail-blazer for theNG development to meet its 2015 fielding target, it has opted to work in lock-step with Sweden to develop the fighter. The two are also expected to settle on a nearly identical aircraft configuration.
The price for this collaboration is a three-year delay. Switzerland now expects to field its first Gripen NG in 2018, with the last of the 22 aircraft to be handed over in 2020. This move will allow the Swiss to take advantage of the much larger Swedish procurement to gain efficiencies. The Swedish air force has expressed a need for 60-80 Gripen NGs, but on a later timeline than Switzerland.
Bern also sees value in sharing the development risk with Sweden, even though Switzerland initially said it was looking for an off-the-shelf fighter. Whenfirst started marketing the Gripen NG for export, Stockholm promised to accelerate its purchase to meet the demands of any foreign customer, but the revised schedule will mitigate any near-term pressures on the Swedish budget.
The cooperation plan remains to be finalized. The two sides are still negotiating, but the Swiss opted to commit to cooperation with Sweden to clarify the situation. The Swiss air force expects to present its detailed procurement plan to parliament in October, with a final contract not expected to be signed until late next year or early 2014. The process in Sweden to approve the development and production program for the Gripen NG is also still in an early stage.
If there is a downside, the combined Swiss and Swedish plans could make it more challenging for Saab to meet Brazil's F-X2 fielding timeline. Brazil is eager to start fielding its new fighter no later than 2017, although the source selection in that campaign—also competed by the/F and Rafale—has been delayed repeatedly.
The new Gripen NG schedule means that the tactical unmanned aircraft replacement is likely to be fielded before the fighter. So far, for that program, the process appears to be running more smoothly. The Swiss government has narrowed its source selection process for a new unmanned aircraft to theHermes 900 and the (IAI) .
A fly-off is slated for the second half of this year, with a type selection due in the first half of 2014. The system, including six air vehicles, ground stations and other gear, is to replace the Ruag Aerospace ADS 95 Ranger, which is reaching the end of its service life.
Purchase of the new system is to be part of the 2015 armaments spending plan. The government is targeting a 2017 entry into service. Elbit and IAI have until August to submit detailed offers.
Switzerland plans to use the system only for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions—the main payload is an electro-optical/infrared sensor, with other options under review. There are no current plans to arm the UAV. The system will be operated by the Swiss air force, which will be involved in the type selection along with Swiss armaments agency Armasuisse.
The UAV and fighter efforts are part of a broader upgrading of the military's aviation assets. Last month, the Swiss air force also fielded its last twotrainers, bringing the total inventory to eight aircraft. The initial procurement was for six, but the service determined that training requirements demanded two additional aircraft.
The program is not just about new equipment, however. In April, the Swiss air force also began fielding modernizedSuper Puma helicopters. The goal is to give the 15-rotorcraft fleet, procured in two batches during the periods 1987-89 and 1991-93, another 15 years of operational life. The upgrade includes GPS receivers, a modernized flight management system, communications gear, a collision-avoidance system and other equipment. Ruag, which is modernizing the helicopters, is to complete the work in 2014.