Fighter manufacturer Saab expects both JAS 39C/D and Gripen E production lines to run concurrently in future. ‘We don’t see any end for the Gripen C/D production line at the moment,’ said the company’s Head of Gripen Marketing, Richard Smith.
Smith told media gathered today at the company’s Linköping facility that he sees three ‘really good opportunities’ for sales of new-build Gripen C/D fighters in the near future
In Africa, Saab remains confident of success in Botswana, where the Gripen C/D is in competition with the Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) FA-50. Smith was unwilling to disclose how many aircraft Botswana is looking to buy, since ‘discussions are ongoing’. Last summer, Sweden’s state military materiel procurement agency denied that a deal had already been struck to sell 12 Gripens to Botswana.
The Botswana Defence Force – Air Wing received ten operational Canadair BF-5A Freedom Fighters, plus a further three non-airworthy examples to act as spares sources. These were acquired from surplus Canadian Forces stock in 1996-97. One aircraft is believed to have crashed, or has been damaged beyond repair. An initial batch of three surplus Canadian Forces BF-5B two-seaters was also acquired in 1996. These were followed by a further four in 2000, of which only two are believed to have been airworthy and operational, the other pair provided to act as a spares source.
In September 2011 a spokesman from the BDF confirmed that all the BF-5 aircraft were non-airworthy, due to maintenance issues and the urgent requirement to replace ejector seats throughout the fleet. This problem appears to have been overcome to some extent and in October 2015 at lease some aircraft were confirmed operational again.
Within Europe, Slovakia is eyeing the JAS 39C/D to replace its ageing MiG-29 fighters. Here, the search for a new fighter has been under way since 2015 and led to a most recent request for information last autumn. Sweden responded in November 2016 and is now awaiting a decision to proceed. Should the Gripen prove successful, the Saab offering would include local support and maintenance.
The Air Arm of the Armed Forces of the Slovak Republic introduced its upgraded MiG-29AS to service from 2007. All 10 examples in service were existing MiG-29 Fulcrum-A aircraft that received an overhaul to extend service life and a limited upgrade during 2005 to 2008. Three two-seat MiGs received a similar overhaul and upgrade and were subsequently redesignated as MiG-29UBS. One of these two-seaters is now effectively withdrawn from service.
Another East European MiG-29 operator, Bulgaria is the third member of the potential Gripen C/D trifecta. Sofia has made most recent progress in its search for new fighter equipment. A request for proposals was received by the manufacturer last December and a response was provided in the first quarter of this year. With a long-running programme to replace the Fulcrum in Bulgaria, Saab expects deliveries will be required quickly.
Around two weeks ago, Bulgarian authorities announced that the Gripen C/D was the preferred option. Now, however, with a new government being formed, any potential Gripen order will require lawmakers’ approval.
According to Smith, the Gripen is currently ‘beating the Tranche 1 Typhoon as well as ex-Portuguese and Israeli F-16s’ in the race to provide new fighters for Bulgaria.
The Bulgarian Air Force operates a 15-strong MiG-29 fleet, including 12 single-seat and three two-seat aircraft. Four more are kept in reserve to be used as spare parts donors. A total of 22 aircraft was originally taken on strength between 1989 and 1990. Two were lost in accidents and another sold.
Between 2006 and 2009, the Bulgarian Fulcrum fleet was partially refurbished and life-extended to 40 years of calendar service by its original equipment manufacturer (OEM), Russia’s RSK MiG company, under a contract valued at around €31m (equating to $48m at the time). No avionics upgrades have been undertaken.