Saab is gearing up to fly the second and third prototypes of its JAS-39E Gripen NG.

The two aircraft, code-named 39-9 and 39-10, are due to fly “soon,” Jonas Hjelm, the company’s senior vice president for aeronautics, told journalists.

Images shown by the company revealed that 39-9 was largely complete and was undergoing painting at the company’s Linkoping plant.

Flight trials with the first aircraft, 39-8, which first flew last June, are continuing, with the aircraft supporting flight envelope expansion tests.

Most recently the aircraft has been flying with underwing pylons produced by Switzerland’s RUAG Aerostructures, while IRIS-T air-to-air missiles have been mounted on the wingtip launchers. The IRIS-T will be the aircraft’s primary short-range air-to-air missile in Swedish service.

The flight tests with pylons will pave the way for future tests for weapon and fuel tank carriage and release.

As the new jets join the test program, they will be fitted out with the electronic warfare systems, radar and other sensors. The Leonardo Raven ES-05 radar is already being tested in the 39-7 demonstrator jet, Hjelm said.

Hjelm said that the company’s approach to onboard software – that of separating flight-critical software from the tactical systems – has paid off, with 39-9 being equipped with more powerful computer hardware. The process has taken weeks and days rather than months, as has been found by other fighter manufacturers.

“It allows us to be much quicker, and gives us a cutting edge,” said Hjelm.

Hjelm expressed disappointment at a recent Slovakian decision to select Lockheed Martin’s F-16 Block 70 over the C/D-model Gripen. It is the second disappointment for the program in several months after Croatia, widely tipped to be a Gripen customer, opted for secondhand F-16s from Israel. Hjelm insisted that Saab had a strong development road map for the older model despite the development of the Gripen NG. The recent MS20 upgrade has added MBDA Meteor missile integration for the Swedish air force. MS20 has also been adopted by the Czech Republic.

There are also plans to introduce an active electronically scanned array radar, although Hjelm would not detail the source of the radar.

Hjelm also suggested that the U.S. and UK could be potential customers for its unarmed Gripen Aggressor platform, which the company has been marketing to commercial operators of fast jet platforms to support red-air and aggressor training.

Cooperation with Brazil is continuing with the recent opening of an aerostructures facility there to support the Gripen development in country. Hjelm said that both Brazil and Sweden were discussing how to further standardize the configuration of the jets being purchased by the two countries. Brazil is looking at introducing a wide-area display cockpit developed by AEL Sistema; Sweden, on the other hand, is looking at a more traditional cockpit with three multi-function displays. Hjelm hinted that the two countries could opt for a single cockpit configuration.