Sweden's slow but determined entry onto the world fighter stage is taking another step forward. At the same time, Saab is talking more in public about networked air combat capabilities that rest on decades of experience, much of which was long kept secret.

Saab and the Swedish and South African air forces are moving to establish a new Fighter Weapons School at the SAAF's Overberg base, in the southern Cape area, to develop advanced combat skills within the growing world community of Gripen pilots. The first class is due to open in October 2013.

In announcing the FWS, the company discussed its concept of networked tactics for the new JAS 39E/F fighter. Ultimately, Overberg's expansive ranges could provide an ideal environment for this technology.

A former site for secret South African/Israeli missile tests, Overberg hosts the SAAF's test squadron and was chosen because it offers access to maritime, desert and high-elevation training areas, live ordnance areas and instrumented ranges with land targets. According to Saab South Africa President Magnus Lewis-Olsson, the goal is “to make good pilots great,” and the FWS will specialize in providing advanced skills to midcareer pilots who can then teach those skills to their own air forces.

The school will initially offer one focused two-month course per year, with possible topics including the use of targeting pods or helmet-mounted displays. It is expected that one or two pilots from each operator nation will attend, and although the first courses will be led by Swedish or South African pilots, it is expected that later courses will be planned by FWS graduates, who will also form the instructor pool.

The SAAF will provide the school with between four and six JAS 39C/D Gripens, plus aggressors (opposition aircraft) and targets if necessary, and each student will fly 20 day and night sorties. Discussions with other Gripen operators have already started. Airborne early warning and control aircraft or tankers could be added later.

The Overberg project starts modestly by world fighter training standards, but is an important step for Sweden, which with its traditions of neutrality had engaged in no international exercises or training before joining the 2006 Cope Thunder exercise in Alaska. It is also intended to strengthen links among the five air forces operating the Gripen—Sweden, South Africa, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Thailand.

Saab has unveiled its concept of “wide spectrum combat” (Wiscom) to exploit the potential of the next-generation JAS 39E/F and C/D Plus, the latter being a C/D retrofitted with E/F avionics and sensors.

One part of the Wiscom concept is the idea of a “flexible antenna pool” in which all aircraft in a flight share sensor and target data automatically. Another is “silent swarm ingress” where a flight enters combat in a widely dispersed pattern, with primary sensors being infrared search and track (IRST), active, electronically scanned array (AESA) radars operating in passive mode, and electronic surveillance measures (ESM).

Under Wiscom, AESA transmissions are restricted and “random”—that is, the aircraft in a flight will transmit at different times, making it difficult to track them by emissions. Swedish engineers have noted that data-linked radars can share plots—not just tracks—and take simultaneous range-rate measurements, allowing two radars to determine a target's velocity almost instantly. Finally, Saab envisages the use of the high-energy MBDA Meteor air-to-air missile to engage from side and rear aspects where targets are less likely to detect the threat.

For air-to-surface missions, Saab is studying an improved RBS 15ER (extended range) version of its own cruise missile with improved land-attack capability. In maritime attack, Wiscom tactics would allow a flight of Gripens to assess the target formation and launch up to two missiles each from different directions with simultaneous arrival times, saturating the target's ability to defend itself.

While other fighter programs claim the ability to use real-time networked tactics, Wiscom is not entirely new, but an extension of Swedish technology developed since the 1960s, when data links were introduced secretly to bypass Soviet communications jamming. The first two-way aircraft-to-aircraft fighter link was deployed on the JA 37 Viggen in the 1980s. It was disclosed after the Viggen was retired in 2005 that it was capable of a “silent” AIM-120 Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile attack, performed by two aircraft using their PS 46/A radars in passive mode.

The original Tactical Information Data Link System (Tidls) fitted to the JAS 39A/B was designed to display the position, bearing and speed of all four aircraft in a formation, including basic status information such as fuel and weapons status. Tidls information, along with radar, EW and mapping data, appears on the central multi-function display. Detailed symbols distinguish between friendlies, hostiles and unidentified targets and show which member of the flight has targeted each hostile. Wiscom blends this capability with AESA, IRST and improved electronic support measures.