THIS is the low-cost, high performance fighter jet that Australia overlooked when the RAAF spent more than $6 billion to fill a capability gap between its retiring F-111 and Hornet fleets and the controversial stealth F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
The plane costs almost the same as a Super Hornet to buy, but Saab claims the Gripen requires just 2.5 hours of maintenance for every hour of flying.
It is designed to operate in isolation with just six support personnel during wartime and is in service with Sweden (60), Thailand (12) and Brazil (36) and will soon be bought by Switzerland (22).
It is in the sights of numerous other countries around the globe including Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei, Peru, Czech Republic, Hungary, Denmark, Mexico, Peru, Chile, Slovakia, Belgium and Colombia.
All these nations have small military budgets so the cost of purchase and operating a fighter fleet is a vital factor and Saab’s commitment to breaking the cost curve has broad appeal.
The company has built more than 5000 military and civil aircraft since the 1950s and its latest jet is 30 per cent cheaper than its predecessor.
Technical innovation is a Saab trait and the landing gear on the aircraft has been redesigned so the jet can carry 40 per cent more fuel internally.
Company executives have all but abandoned hope of selling the Gripen to Australia and other US F-35 allies such as Japan and South Korea.
They are more than happy to describe the Joint Strike Fighter as a “slug’’ and to quote the jet’s critics comparing a fight with the new American stealth jet to “clubbing baby seals to death’’.
“Australia has been turned towards the US, but Brazil and Switzerland have changed all that,’’ one executive said.
“Why wouldn’t Australia think the same way?’’
Sweden has a population of just nine million people and companies such as Saab and its 14,000 hi-tech staff are at the leading edge of advanced military and civil technologies including fighters, aircraft components, submarines, radars, combat systems, weapons and simulation technology.(News)
***Ian McPhedran travelled to Sweden as a guest of Saab.