Gripen C/D gets a smarter suit

With a new weapons system, enhanced protection for the pilot and longer service intervals MS20 gives a real boost to the entire Gripen platform.

The Gripen design allows us to constantly upgrade the system and tailor solutions. Let’s take a closer look at the latest operational upgrade and combat enhancement for the Gripen fighter.

The new MS20 capability enhancement for Gripen C/D involves a whole series of improvements and new functionality, both in terms of the aircraft itself and the ancillary support and training systems.

“MS20 is part of the continuous upgrades to the Gripen Materiel System (MS) that we undertake to meet changes in the challenges faced by our customers. The Swedish Armed Forces have generally had their Gripen aircraft upgraded every three or four years, with minor updates in between,” explains Hans Pettersson who is a contract manager at Saab.

The upgrade is now being offered to international customers which are flying a C or D version of Gripen, and the Czech Republic has already signed up for it. In addition to a basic package, each customer can customise their order with optional upgrades depending on their specific national requirements.

“MS20 is designed as a basic package with a number of optional add-ons to allow it to be customised. Our long-term design work, which is based on an evolutionary approach, means that we do not develop separate tracks, but carry out gradual functional enhancements that we can then base our customisations on. It’s cost-effective for our customers,” says Åsa Schöllin, project manager for Gripen C/D at Saab.

The upgrade itself consists of a raft of new features – everything from a weapons system to a communication and maintenance system. “The most significant new feature in the system is the Meteor beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile. In terms of range, the performance of Meteor has been significantly enhanced compared with previous weapons systems and it can intercept air targets at large distances. It has been developed by a consortium consisting of Sweden and a further five countries. Gripen has been used as a testing platform during the development of Meteor, and the Swedish Air Force is the first to be equipped with the missile,” says Pettersson.

Another major change involves new maintenance periods for servicing, and a number of updates to simplify fault diagnostics. This means that the aircraft can be out on missions longer. “We have been able to extend some servicing intervals. In practice, this means that it is possible to carry out longer missions without needing to have so much equipment with you," says Schöllin.

Pettersson highlights two major communication upgrades which are included in MS20. “We have undertaken a significant expansion of the functionality in the NATO-compatible data link system Link 16. The development ensures that communication capabilities are significantly enhanced between different aircraft and between aircraft and command and control systems, as well as on missions against ground and surface targets.”

The other major communication upgrade is called Digital CAS, (Close Air Support), which is the communication between the pilot and ground forces. In the past, information about targets and the position of the armed forces was exchanged via speech radio. With Digital CAS information can be exchanged via data, which reduces the pilot’s workload and the time to the armed response. 

Updates for the Swedish Armed Forces are constantly ongoing. Hardware modifications to the aircraft are carried out at Saab in Linköping. “We’ve brought in several aircraft at a time. After that you can load the new software into the aircraft and update the support and training systems on site. That part of the update is carried out in the military units,” says Schöllin.