Saab, its Swedish air force customer and Selex-ES have disclosed new details of the JAS 39E Gripen fighter, which has been in full development for just over a year following a six-year risk-reduction and demonstration effort. The JAS 39E is a new aircraft in detail, with only a few structural or systems components in common with the current JAS 39C/D, but it shares enough with its predecessor to take full advantage of weapon-integration experience and uses an evolved version of the C/D's software.

Compared with earlier Gripen variants, the JAS 39E has a higher gross weight and can carry 2,400 lb. more internal fuel, mostly due to a redesigned main landing gear that retracts into underwing bulges rather than the body. The nose gear has also been changed, from a twin-wheel unit to a larger single wheel that is compatible with emergency arrester cables on runways. The main structure has been redesigned with continuous wing-fuselage frames that extend to the inboard wing pylons, where the outer wings are attached, and the fuselage contours have been changed, partly to accommodate more fuel. However, the redesign has reduced the airframe's proportion of the empty weight, boosting useful load.

The JAS 39E will be able to engage stealth targets with a fused, multispectral sensor suite (see article below), according to program officials. It will be able to cruise at Mach 1.25 without using afterburner, and will enter service in 2018 with a full suite of weapons including the MBDA Meteor ramjet-powered air-to-air missile (which enters service next year on the JAS 39C/D). The Swedish air force's fixed-price contract for 60 complete aircraft, converted from JAS 39Cs but with new engine, avionics and primary structure, equates to a flyaway price of $43 million.

The JAS 39E is not a classically stealthy aircraft, but the development contract stipulates a significantly lower radar cross-section (RCS) than the JAS 39C. In conjunction with the all-new Saab-developed electronic warfare system, which uses gallium nitride antenna technology and is described as an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance sensor in its own right, and the new Selex-ES Brite Cloud expendable active decoy, the reduced RCS is expected to allow the fighter to survive against advanced threats, including the Sukhoi T-50 fighter and “double-digit” surface-to-air missiles, while avoiding the cost and risk of an F-35-type stealth configuration.

The first customers, Sweden and Switzerland, are buying only single-seat aircraft, but codevelopment of the two-seat JAS 39F is being discussed with Brazil, which selected the new Gripen to reequip its fighter force in December.

The JAS 39E is intended to have a lower acquisition cost than the JAS 39C, despite its greater capability, and to have a lower operating cost than any other fighter. The Swedish air force reports an hourly operating cost of $7,500 for the JAS 39C, including fuel. For development costs (also covered by a fixed-price contract), Saab's goal is to spend only 60% as much as it would have cost using the same tools and processes that were used on the JAS 39C.

The program has some important events pending this year. On May 18, Switzerland will hold a referendum on its order for 22 JAS 39Es. Saab executives acknowledge that the referendum will be a close vote. Another key goal is to negotiate and close a contract for Brazil's 36 aircraft by the end of the year.

The risk that neither deal will close is seen as small, but it is a threat because Sweden's parliament approved the JAS 39E program on the condition that at least one international partner must be found. On the other hand, the program is well advanced and the air force need is established: The force's requirement for 60-80 JAS 39Es was approved by a joint-service team headed by an army officer, according to Maj. Gen. Micael Byden, air force chief of staff.

Saab's commercial goal for the JAS 39E is to export 300-450 aircraft over the next 20 years, according to Lennart Sindahl, executive vice-president and head of aeronautics. This represents 10% of the “accessible market,” he says, accounting for nations to which Sweden bans major arms exports. Gripen, Sindahl says, has won 50% of its competitions since exports started.

Active campaigns include Denmark, which is expected to start a formal competition in April with the release of a “request for binding information,” and a long-running contest in Malaysia. Brazil's order is regarded by Saab as the first of three tranches, with the JAS 39E in a strong position to replace F-5s and Alenia-Embraer A-1s.

The first of three JAS 39E development aircraft (known as 39-8, 39-9 and 39-10) will fly in the first half of 2015, the company says. 39-9 will follow about nine months later, and 39-10—basically a full-production aircraft but fitted with flight-test instrumentation—will fly in 2017.

Gripen Upgrade
JAS 39C JAS 39E
Empty weight, lb. 13,000 less than 14,000
Internal fuel, lb. greater than 5,000 greater than7,400
Max takeoff weight, lb. 30,900 36,400
Engine Volvo RM12 GE F414-GE-39E
Intermediate/Max thrust, lb. 12,150/18,100 14,400/22,000
Supercruise No Mach 1.25
Radar Mechanical scan AESA
IRST No Yes
Cockpit display 3 6 X 8 in. 1 8 X 20 in.