A focus on realistic requirements has helped Swedish industry and government teams integrate weapons on the Gripen faster and at lower cost than similar efforts elsewhere, Saab says.

Two new weapons for the Gripen, the Raytheon GBU-49 Enhanced Paveway II laser-plus-GPS bomb and Diehl Iris-T infrared air-to-air missile (AAM), were successfully integrated in 2006-09, according to Gideon Singer, technical director for Gripen exports, and Lisa Abom, head of the Saab project office for engineering and weapons. Flight testing of the Thales Digital Joint Reconnaissance Pod for South Africa's Gripens was completed in 2011 in “less than eight months,” they say.

The Gripen was also selected as the test platform for the MBDA Meteor AAM. The first production firing took place this summer and qualification firings for full integration of the Gripen will be complete in 2014. Sweden will be the first air force to field the new missile, with the Gripen MS 20 package in 2015. That upgrade will also include the GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb.

In a European Defense Agency workshop session earlier this year, Saab found its costs were much lower than the average of the other European nations' costs—from €15-50 million ($20-67 million) for simple weapons to €200 million for complex integrations such as the Meteor.

Saab devotes 14% of integration costs to planning and coordination, Singer and Albom told the Defense IQ International Fighter Conference here this month. One lesson is to “reach early agreement,” they said. This means defining and clearly interpreting requirements, limitations and the approach to testing. “You need to avoid terms like 'full envelope,'” Singer remarked. “If you ask, the operational pilot will often say that he doesn't need to go supersonic with three tanks and all these bombs.”

Sweden also has an integrated test team representing the air force, Saab and the country's defense materiel administration, which uses common basic principles and procedures when working with different weapon suppliers (at least five in the last few years). The Swedish defense industry has tight financial limits, Albom points out—Sweden's GDP is less than the Pentagon budget, and its defense budget is 4% of that of the Eurofighter nations.

Other cost-saving factors include the rapid upgrade cycle for the Gripen, with new software packages released every 2-3 years, versus larger, less frequent and riskier steps. This work provides a good deal of practical experience with modeling and simulation, boosting confidence that real-world performance will match predictions.