Saab Sea Gripen – The Future Of Carrier Borne Air Power

Saab has long considered the potential for its Gripen fighter to be adapted for maritime use from STOBAR and CATOBAR aircraft carriers.  The inherent strength built into the airframe to permit regular road based/short field operations, the excellent forward field of view on approach, the outstanding handling characteristics at all speeds gave confidence that Gripen had all the basics to build upon.  Of the ten critical criteria that all carrier based aircraft require, Gripen possessed seven.  Since 2004, increasingly detailed work to prove this concept has borne out the original thinking – that Gripen will indeed make a first class carrier based fighter, retaining all the capability and cost efficiencies of the land based Gripen E/F.  The final detailed design work, conducted by linked teams in London and Linköping, was completed in August 2012.

Sea Gripen offers a full multi-role capability in all roles, day and night.  It is the perfect work-horse for the carrier environment, with low supportability and high availability offering the marine command maximum levels of fire power over protracted operational periods afloat and ashore, and the ability to surge to very high tempo operations when required.

India has embarked on an ambitious warship building programme that this decade will see the Indian Navy operate a significant blue water navy, with aircraft carriers and full carrier based fighter forces.  Saab sees Sea Gripen as the ideal IN fleet fighter, and a perfect fit in terms of timing. Saab proposes to work in partnership with the Indian Navy, Integrated Command, DRDO and ship building authorities to demonstrate fully the major advantages that Sea Gripen can bring to the new carrier fleet, and to the security of the nation, for the next 40 years.

Why?

•Current marine fighters are very large, very heavy, very costly  – F/A-18E/F, F-35C, Rafale M, Mig 29M, Su 33

•Only Sea Gripen fits on all existing aircraft carriers worldwide, and by definition all future carriers

•Sea Gripen will offer maximum capability from STOBAR and CATOBAR carrriers

•Only Sea Gripen will offer proven maximum cost to capability value

The London Design Centre

Saab recruited a team of UK based engineers to staff a new design centre in the Saab UK London office, to conduct final detailed design of the carrier-based version of the aircraft.  This design phase built upon many years of investigative work already completed by Saab Aeronautics to produce a marine version.  The engineers were a mix of Gripen specialists from Linköping, and UK based experts on carrier operations.  Sweden tapped into this pool of maritime jet knowledge that resides in UK, to form a highly focused combined Swedish/UK team to deliver the design and production plans.

Sea Gripen Capabilities

Sea Gripen will offer an ideal replacement for existing fleets, countries who will return to carrier based operations, and potential emerging aircraft carrier nations.   Its footprint will allow it to operate from all existing carriers in service, and fit on every lift in operation worldwide.

SaabAB will establish the Sea Gripen as a new-generation carrier-based fighter option for the future.  The Sea Gripen will have all the capabilities of the Gripen E/F, and will be the most technologically advanced fighter aircraft in the world in its category.  The aircraft will be highly agile, have supercruise capability, extended reach, netcentric capability, carefree manoeuvering, advanced data link and an extensive electronic warfare suite that can be adapted to meet specific national user requirements. The Sea Gripen will also have superior sensor fusion abilities, the Selex Raven AESA radar, Infra-Red Search and Track, plus a revolutionary avionics architecture including ultra-fast databuses and Ethernet. The platform offers for easy integration of advanced weapon systems and growth potential.

Aircraft carrier capabilities such as low landing speed, high pitch & roll authority, high-precision glide slope control, high-precision landing capability, high sink rate clearance, strengthened airframe etc., are built-in from the beginning in the Gripen E/F platform.

The Sea Gripen is intended for both CATOBAR as well as STOBAR operations. All the sensors, avionics and weapons and the GE 414G of the Gripen NG will be offered in the Sea Gripen. The small logistic footprint, high availability and a smaller, lighter airframe results in significant gains from a maintainability point of view. The Gripen spares inventory is therefore lighter, smaller and adds less to the load of the carrier and it takes fewer personnel to maintain the aircraft.

In addition, the Sea Gripen incorporates Gripen´s aptitude for active service in the field with easy maintenance.  An engine change is completed  in less than an hour in the field and no need for external power. With an operational flight hour cost of around $4000, the aircraft is an ideal match for naval requirements.  Additionally, Gripen is, by an order of magnitude, the lowest cost latest generation fighter available today. The rugged Sea Gripen design will allow for 30 - 40 years of use, depending upon flying rates imposed by the user nation.

Today, the Gripen platform meets and exceeds the highest requirements to be able to operate anywhere in the world. Potential customers place exceptional demands on the fighters’ ability to operate in high humidity conditions. The challenge at sea is to add in the extreme corrosive effect of salt water ingress when operating in the maritime environment. The very exacting Gripen design tolerances in build produce a watertight outer skin on the airframe,which protects against salt water ingress and the very hostile climatic conditions encountered in the maritime environment. The Sea Gripen EW Suite, RCS/Stealth features and sensor fusion will be identical to the land based Gripen E/F.

Sea Gripen is equipped with 10 weapon stations, including arming the aircraft with the RBS air to surface missile system, and the Meteor BVR missile. All standard weapon systems can be integrated and the Mausercanon will be retained. The Sea Gripen on offer will have the same weapons configuration as the Gripen E/F, but will be customized to meet the exact  requirements of the customer.

Key support cost parameters such as aircraft reliability, maintainability and testability received equal priority to the operational and technical design goals during the design of Gripen. As a result each Gripen operator will experience few failures, low maintenance downtimes, a very short turnaround time and an exceptionally low life support cost. The aircraft design is influenced to maximize its inherent availability which ensures outstanding reliability, maintainability and testability at sea.  The support system design has optimised all key functions such as maintenance, training, supply and support resources. This support system is extremely flexible and can easily meet each specific customer's individual requirements and priorities.  It will enable customers for Sea Gripen to re-evaluate the aircraft carrier support and maintenance concept of operations, to make fullest use of the exceptional simplicity of Gripen support requirements to save costs and increase availability.

Operational Costs

Based on open statistics from the Swedish Air Force, the calculated cost per flying hour is approximately 4,000 USD including fuel.

Availability statistics

Gripen has a Mean Time Between Failure (MTBF) of 7.6  and a Mean Time To Repair (MTTR) of 2.5. This means that Gripen on average is able to fly 7.6 hours before a fault occurs, and when a fault occurs it takes 2.5 hours to repair it.

These figures are unsurpassed in the fighter aircraft industry.