Even as Saab celebrates the first flight of its JAS 39 Gripen E-series aircraft, the bulk of its near-term international sales opportunities center around the in-production C/D model.

The aircraft manufacturer says that three sales opportunities are on the near horizon: new C-models for Botswana in Africa and for NATO members Slovakia and Bulgaria in Eastern Europe.

Elsewhere, Saab is offering either the Gripen C/D or E/F, depending on budget and capability, to Belgium, Canada, Croatia, Columbia, Finland, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Switzerland.

As is common in all fighter procurements, each campaign has ups and downs, stops, starts and restarts, as well as unique political, cultural and financial requirements. Richard Smith, Saab’s head of Gripen marketing and sales, says the key to these contests is to never quit. “Patience is absolutely key,” he says. “If you give up, you lose. Don’t give up."

Gripen is considered one of the Western World’s premier multirole fighters. It competes primarily against the Korea Aerospace Industries FA-50 Golden Eagle and Lockheed Martin F-16 as well as upgraded legacy fighters in the single-engine combat aircraft market. The in-development E-series Gripen is a lower-cost alternative to the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, Dassault Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon and Lockheed F-35 in other competitions.

Generous financing options by the Swedish government helps the Gripen get ahead in some markets, whereas other nations value the significant technology transfer that can come from a Gripen purchase. Saab’s last major win was the Gripen E/F sale to Brazil, but it now needs a couple of long-running C/D campaigns to translate into firm contracts to support C-series production in Linköping until the future E-series takes over in the late-2020s. The first of three single-seat Gripen E test aircraft will fly in the next couple of months, and first delivery is expected in 2019.

Saab aims to grow the family of Gripen operators, which counts NATO members Czech Republic and Hungary, South Africa, Thailand and the UK’s Empire Test Pilot School in addition to Sweden and Brazil.

In Africa, the Botswana Defense Force Air Wing needs a replacement for its single squadron of outdated Canadair CF-5s. Botswana is weighing the Gripen C/D against a competing offer from Korea, the FA-50. A request for proposals (RFP) went out in June 2016 and the Swedish government responded with Saab’s fighter in January. “Discussions are moving forward with Botswana; we’re offering genuine fighter capability,” Smith says.

In Central Europe, the Slovak Air Force needs to replace its squadron of Soviet-era Mikoyan MiG-29s. Saab is leveraging the Slovak Republic’s strong military-to-military relationship with the Czech Republic to push Gripen across the line. Saab has been in discussions with Slovakia since 2015 and in November 2016, it responded to a new RFP issued earlier in the year.

“There’s been ups and downs and changes in the government on top of that, but healthy negotiations,” Smith says. “We’re awaiting information on how to proceed.”

Bulgaria is in the process of forming a new government, which is holding up a decision on a new fighter to replace its MiG-29s. Sweden responded to a December 2016 RFP and the Gripen was recently singled out as the preferred choice. Smith expects the winner to be publicly announced in April.

In all three cases, Saab is offering the latest MS20 Gripen C-series configuration.