Canadian Defence Review Cover Story by Joetey Attariwala Saab Offers a Made-In-Canada Fighter Jet Solution

Saab Canada and its “Gripen for Canada Team” is the only manufacturer committing to transfer the building of its fighter solution for Canada’s FFCP (Future Fighter Capability Project) - the multi-role Gripen E - to Canada.

This distinctly sets Saab’s solution apart from every other bidder on the program, and represents a critical element of the company’s proposal as Saab will share technology and knowledge with Canada. This would in turn enable Canada’s aerospace industry to innovate and allow it the capability and flexibility to upgrade and sustain Gripen E domestically over its entire service lifetime.

The domestic support capability is something that must be considered carefully in relation to supply chains and maintainability, especially in light of the recent difficulties that Canada encountered when requesting PPE supplies from the US around the COVID-19 pandemic. If something as simple and benign as medical masks could be an issue, then one can only surmise what issues could potentially be encountered around the acquisition of sophisticated aerospace technology when it comes to the crunch.

 

INTEROPERABILITY A NON ISSUE

Many in Canada, and in fact North America, are unaware that Gripen fighter jets have already integrated seamlessly with NATO and allied forces. For example, Gripens of the Swedish Air Force integrated seamlessly into coalition operations during the United Nations air campaign over Libya.

Hungarian and Czech Republic Gripens routinely conduct NATO air policing missions over the Baltic States and NATO air surveillance missions over Iceland. Canada participates in all of these missions, which is testament to the fact that Gripen is, undeniably, NATO interoperable. In fact, CDR witnessed this first hand when we visited Šiauliai Air Base in Lithuania. It was during that visit that I personally saw Hungarian Gripen fighters conduct quick reaction alert missions as part of a NATO Air Policing Mission.

This was further codified in late May when Swedish Gripen fighters integrated with USAF (United States Air Force) B -1B Lancer strategic bombers of the Global Strike Command. In this instance, two B-1B bombers from the 28th Bomb Wing at Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota conducted a long-range strategic Bomber Task Force mission to the Nordic region.

The mission allowed the USAF to integrate with Swedish Gripens while conducting close-air support training with Swedish Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC) ground teams. General Jeff Harrigan, U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa Commander, commented on the interoperability as follows: “Long-range bomber training missions strengthen our steadfast partnerships with allies across both Europe and Africa. . . . This mission further enhances our interoperability capabilities by taking groundbreaking steps to incorporate our partners to generate seamless operations.”

But, Gripen’s suitability in responding to existing and future threats is also a consideration that the Swedish Air Force takes very seriously. Russian fighter aircraft are merely minutes away from Swedish and allied territory, which means Gripens have to react at a moment’s notice to intercept threats, a requirement which necessitates high availability rates for quick reaction alert.

This is in contrast to the veritable glacial pace of advance notice that Canada usually enjoys when conducting its intercepts. If that’s not enough proof of Gripen interoperability, Sweden also hosts the biennial Arctic Challenge Exercise which has Gripen fighters regularly operating with NATO and allied aircraft.

And, the same capability that Saab has demonstrated with NATO assets can also be found in a NORAD context. Saab’s Sea Giraffe air and surface search radar as well as Saab fire control and combat management system modules are integrated into the heart of the combat system of Royal Canadian Navy Halifax Class frigates. By the way, these frigates do operate as part of the Canadian contribution to the NORAD Maritime Warning Mission, which is one of the three core NORAD Missions.

 

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