Before Gripen, Sweden had Draken. The fighter featured Saab’s pioneering technology sharing real-time operational data between aircraft in a fighting unit, using radio frequencies. This technology was further enhanced over the next 30 years before Gripen A/B was developed.
The cost factor
Unlike many nations, Sweden had a relatively small defence budget. So the new fighter had to break the cost curve of expensive aircraft development. Gripen was developed with modular and open avionics architecture which enabled its operators to integrate off-the-shelf products wherever possible, as opposed to costly mid-life upgrades.
Must wear many hats
Demands for cost and operational effectiveness led to the development of Gripen A/B, the first variant of Gripen. The fighter had to perform air-to-air, air-to-surface and reconnaissance missions in a single sortie, without the need to return to base for reconfiguration.
Gripen was built on Cold War philosophy which means it could land and take-off from ordinary roads (16 x 800 metres in length). This concept enabled operations from large number of dispersed airbases.
Gripen A/B to Gripen C/D
Once the Cold War was over, the Swedish Air Force realised the need for a fighter that could participate in international operations. At the same time, Saab identified the need for an export product. This resulted in creating the next variant: Gripen C/D, an aircraft with high upgradability quotient that would be offered to international operators.
For Gripen C/D, air-to-surface and reconnaissance capabilities were extensively redeveloped. Gripen A/B was made to survive the harsh, Arctic cold weather. But since Gripen C/D was aimed at exports as well, it was paramount that they were adapted to survive climatic conditions across the globe.