Most military aircraft are built with the present and future in mind. Fighters are ordinarily commissioned decades in advance of completion. These needs are usually defined by military planners. The planners draw on as much intelligence and strategic thinking as possible to make the right decisions for what are massive multi-billion dollar projects. During the cold war many nations considered the military of the highest economic priority. Matters of defence were given huge budgets. When it came to air forces there were some with seemingly bottomless pockets.
Swedish prudence and the birth of Gripen
Sweden was one country that did not believe in blank cheques when it came to its military. The Swedish Air Force was to be no exception.
In 1980 a requirement was issued to Swedish manufacturers for a new multi-role aircraft. The bar was set high. Excellent performance, agility and speed were all necessary to combat the threats at that time. However, the high-level Swedish strategists did not only put in a request for a new fighter. They pushed for a new way of thinking. They had decided it would be costly and difficult to adapt many of the aircraft on the market. They realised that the fundamental requirements of their air force were changing, and changing fast. To meet this new realisation a new kind of fighter system and new way of thinking was required. This was to be the defining characteristic of the Gripen system.
Gripen evolves with time, fundamentally staying future-proofed
The Gripen system was to consistently stay ahead of the curve rather than being on, or behind it. Rather than the ‘mid-life upgrades’ every eight to ten years, typical to most fighters, Gripen has regular upgrades every two to three years without affecting its core flight abilities. At its inception Gripen was set to be the most advanced fighter in existence. With true multi-role capabilities the fighter was designed to be smart, tough, agile and swift. This was not only a new aircraft it signified a new and progressive design thought-process.
Evolutionary economics and avoiding the budget ‘death spiral’
Both the Swedish Air Force and the Swedish government knew that this evolutionary system would prove to be cost effective. The government knew that they had to break the so called ‘cost curve’ faced by each generation of fighter. The Gripen design has proven that while other fighter systems are facing what is known as the ‘budget death spiral’ of costs, the Gripen has escaped this. By offering regular upgrades, rather than the high cost mid-life upgrade model followed by many other manufacturers, Saab’s evolving Gripen system keeps costs in line with today’s economic realities.
Evolved to new environments, a global footprint
Now Gripen is world-wide. A tailored solution to all climates and for all purposes, from NATO member states to South Africa, Brazil, Thailand and potential support to new economies such as India. Fit-for-purpose across the globe and more than ready to face a wide and varied threat horizon. The Gripen system is increasingly seen as the contemporary solution to both changing threat and budgetary requirements.