Skip to comments.Why Canada Should Buy The Saab JAS39 Gripen E “Next Generation” Fighter
Posted on 01/07/2013 11:45:28 PM PST by sukhoi-30mki
Why Canada Should Buy The Saab JAS39 Gripen E Next Generation Fighter
Editors note: Defence Watch reader Kyle Meema has researched alternatives to the F-35. In a two-part series running Monday and Tuesday he argues that Canada should purchase the Gripen fighter aircraft.
By Kyle Meema
Defence Watch Guest Writer
Candidates: The Various Alternatives
Contrary to the assertions of politicians and officials, there are several viable alternatives to the F-35A. The Rafale, Eurofighter, Next Generation Gripen, and F/A-18 E Super Hornet are all very capable fighter jets that could serve Canada very well.
While the Rafale performs very well, it is hindered by its incompatibility with most NATO standard weapons, which Canada stockpiles. This means that Canada would be dependent on French munitions and our existing weapons could not be used. But for this compatibility issue, the Rafale would be a very strong contender. Though still a very capable fighter, the Super Hornet is also not the best of these alternatives due to an antiquated air frame and a relatively low top speed of mach 1.8. The two most promising alternatives are the Next Generation Gripen and the Eurofighter.
Saab has three versions of its JAS39 Gripen fighter jet. Of those models, I propose that Canada procure the NG (Next Generation, also known as the E/F) model that is currently in development and scheduled to be introduced in 2017. It is the third generation of the Gripen fighter. Based on the Gripen C/D airframe, the NG Gripen will have new and improved sensor technology, fuel capacity, engine, and potentially thrust vectoring. It is to the Gripen C/D what the F/A-18E/F is to the F/A-18A/B. It is a very capable fighter and the ideal candidate to replace Canadas aging CF-18s.
*Note: As the NG Gripen is still being tested, some of the information in this article refers to the Gripen C/D performance. The NG Gripen is designed to match or beat the C/D in terms of performance and cost.
Narrowing Down The Alternatives: Gripen vs Eurofighter vs F-35A
Factor 1: Cost
The cost-to-performance ratio is what makes the Gripen so appealing. The Gripen C/D has very similar performance and technology of the Eurofighter, but comes at half the price. The Gripen costs $60 million per plane whereas the latest Eurofighter costs $125 million per plane. The F-35A, by contrast, is currently projected to cost $107 million per plane by 2017. However, the Canadian government currently projects initial procurement costs for 65 F-35As at $9 billion , putting the initial procurement cost at $138 million per plane. That same $9 billion would buy 150 Gripens or 72 Eurofighters. This ambiguity in the true cost of the F-35A makes projections difficult, leading to uncertainty. However, whatever the true cost is, it will be enormous and not reflective of the F-35As limited capabilities. In terms of initial procurement cost, the Gripen is the clear winner.
Not only are the initial procurement costs of the Gripen low, it is also the least expensive modern fighter jet to operate at approximately $4,700 per flight hour. Conversely, the Eurofighter costs $18,000 per flight hour and the F-35A costs an enormous $21, 000 per flight hour.
A fleet of 65 F-35As is currently projected to cost Canada $45.8 billion over the course of a 40+ year lifespan. If $9 billion is to actually purchase the planes, then the operating costs for a fleet of 65 F-35As for 40+ years will be approximately $36.8 billion. The Eurofighters operating costs are 85% that of the F-35A , therefore the operating costs of a fleet of 72 Eurofighters over 40+ years would be approximately $34.6 billion. The Gripens operating costs are 15% that of the F-35A, therefore the operating cost of a fleet of 150 Gripens for 40+ years would be approximately $12.7 billion. In terms of operational cost, the Gripen is the clear winner.
Despite the fact that these figures are estimates and will likely vary, the massive gap between the F-35A, Eurofighter, and the Gripen are difficult to ignore. The Gripen and Eurofighter cost projections are likely to be closer to reality given that it they are based on proven systems with much more fight time. There is no real world combat date on the F-35A and its true cost for Canada can only climb higher, particularly given issues such as the F-35As incompatibility with certain weapons and Canadas CC-150 Polaris refuelling tankers, which are examined later.
Part problem with the Eurofighter and F-35A is that their dramatically higher costs do not translate into a proportional increase in performance and capability. The Gripen, however, has performance very nearly equal to the Eurofighter, but comes at half the cost. Even though the shortfall in performance is, as will be examined later, negligible, the money saved by procuring the Gripen could be put towards arming Canadas Gripen fleet with the best weapons available, providing Canadian Gripen pilots with the best training, and leave room for future upgrades as technology improves. This, along with the increase in the sheer numbers of Gripen fighters Canada could purchase, would more than make up for the negligible shortfall in performance or capability. The F-35A, by comparison, is a relatively poor performer.
Other countries are rethinking their commitments and re-evaluating their options, such as Italy, Australia, and the U.S. The Netherlands has cancelled their F-35 order altogether. This means that the F-35 will likely cost more than current projections estimate. If other countries are rethinking or outright abandoning their F-35 purchases, Canada should take note and conduct serious review of alternatives.
Factor 2: Performance
With regard to specifications, the Gripen and Eurofighter are about equal, save for the fact that the Saab has obtained AESA radar, an asset the Eurofighter currently lacks, and the Gripen is a single engine fighter whereas the Eurofighter is a twin engine fighter. They both have similar power-to-weight ratios and wing loading capacities and, although the Eurofighter enjoys a very slight advantage, they are so close in performance that any advantage enjoyed by the Eurofighter is negligible, particularly when compared to the vast difference in price. Both fighters have very similar, armament, top speed, capacity, fuel capacity, range, sensor technology, sensor fusion, helmet-mounted display, situational awareness, speed, and manoeuvrability. American General John Jumper is the only person to have flown the Eurofighter and the U.S.A.s top air superiority fighter, the F-22A, and was quoted as saying, Ive flown all the [American] Air Force jets. None was as good as the Eurofighter. The key difference is that the Eurofighter costs $65 million more per plane, but does not deliver an additional $65 million worth of improved performance over the Gripen. Both are very impressive and capable fighters. Though equal in performance, the cost of the Gripen makes it the clear winner.
By comparison, the F-35A is a poor performer. It is not designed to include supercruise capability and can only maintain supercruise for a mere 241km. Both the Gripen and Eurofighter have full supercruise capability at mach 1.2.   The F-35A is also slow by fighter jet standards. With a top speed of 1,930kmph (mach 1.6), it lags far behind the Gripen, Eurofighter, which can both reach speeds above mach 2.  The F-35A is even slower than the Super Hornet and F-16 Fighting Falcon it is meant to replace.
Manoeuvrability is also an issue with the F-35A. Its small wing design does not allow for quick manoeuvres using tight turn radii. The Gripen and Eurofighter excel in the area of manoeuvrability, providing an additional advantage in a combat situation.
Though the fact that the Gripen is a single engine fighter might be seen as a disadvantage, the fact that the Canadian government was so eager to procure the F-35A indicates that the single/twin engine difference is not a significant factor.
Another disadvantage that reduces the F-35As capabilities is its limited internal weapons capacity. With four internal hardpoints, the F-35A cannot deliver nearly as much in payload, particularly when compared to the Russian Su-35, which has twelve hardpoints, the Eurofighter, which has thirteen hardpoints, and the NG Gripen, which will have twelve hardpoints. The F-35A can carry additional fuel and weapons externally using its six external hardpoints, but this negates the F-35As already questionable stealth advantage, which is examined later, and would not be advisable in a combat situation.
Factor 3: Compatibility and Weapons Capacity
The F-35A cannot yet carry the upcoming MBDA Meteor air-to-air missile; the most advanced NATO compatible air-to-air missile in the world, which is a major disadvantage in air-to-air combat, particularly in terms of engaging a target that is beyond visual range. Plans to modify the MBDA Meteor to fit into the F-35As internal weapons bays have been proposed, but these plans are uncertain and adds to the already monstrous price tag. The Gripen and Eurofighter are both already compatible with the MBDA Meteor, along with virtually every other NATO compatible weapon available, giving them a significant combat advantage over the F-35A. Even if an F-35A compatible version of the Meteor is developed in the future, that would not increase the capability of F-35A to such an extent as to justify the exorbitant price and poor performance in other areas.
The F-35A also cannot carry the AGM-65 Maverick air-to-ground missile as it does not fit in the internal weapons bay. It can be equipped on one of the external hardpoints, but this greatly diminishes what little stealth advantage the F-35A enjoys. In order to use internal weapons to take out ground-based targets, Canada would have to buy the Brimestone air-to-ground missile, pushing the cost of operating the F-35A beyond its already unreasonable figure.
This means that on retirement of the CF-18s, all ammunition that is not compatible with the F-35As internal weapons bay becomes practically useless. The RCAF would have to spend additional funds to purchase new ammunition that is compatible for use on the F-35A. However, the KPMG report states that the ammunition budget will be slashed from $270 million to $52 million, which significantly limits the quality and quantity of ammunition Canada could acquire. The RCAF would have the funds to buy and maintain fighter jets, but lack the funds to actually arm them. A fighter jet without weapons is not good for anything other than giving the enemy target practice. The Gripen and the Eurofighter are compatible with all the weapons Canada currently stock piles, the future MBDA Meteor, and every other NATO compatible weapon. As the Gripen costs substantially less, the ammunition budget would not have to be reduced, providing Canadas forces with the greatest flexibility to provide the right weapons for whatever task is at hand.
The F-35A also presents a problem in terms of integration into Canadas existing air-infrastructure due to its method of midair refuelling: the flying boom method. The flying boom method is only used by the U.S. Air Force. Virtually every other air force in the world, including Canada, uses the probe-and-drogue method. Canadas CF-18s and CC-150 Polaris aerial tankers use this method. An off-the-lot purchase of F-35As would mean Canada could not refuel its fighters midair and they would have to land for refuelling, use an allied or private midair refuelling tanker, or be modified to use the probe-and-drogue method. Landing to refuel is impractical and severely limits Canadas operational capacity due to its inflexibility. Using an allied or private midair refuelling tanker adds to the already exorbitant costs and means Canada cannot operate its fighter jet fleet independently. It reduces Canadas operational flexibility by an unreasonable degree. Modifying the F-35A to use a probe-and-drogue system is possible, but it adds to the ever-increasing costs. As the a Canadian procurement of the F-35A would result in the infrastructure upgrade budget being slashed from $400 million to $244 million funds to solve the midair refueling problem would be scarce. Much like with the limited weapons capacity and compatibility problem, not only could Canada not afford to arm a fleet of F-35As properly, it could also not afford to refuel them using its existing infrastructure and equipment. The Eurofighter and the Gripen do not have these problems as they are compatible with all NATO weapons and the probe-and-drogue method. The Eurofighter and Gripen are equal in terms of compatibility, but the Gripen is the clear winner due to the fact that it is half the cost.
Factor 4: Sensors and Situational Awareness
Part of the reason the F-35A was developed was to provide excellent situational awareness to the pilot. This is achieved through a wide range of sensors, data link capability, sensor fusion, Link 16 data link, and a helmet mounted display. The Gripen C/D already offers all these features and the NG Gripen will expand and improve on them. For example, the NG Gripen will include the ES-05 Raven AESA radar, an upgrade over the C/D Gripens PS-05/A radar. The Eurofighter offers a similar sensor suite, but lacks the AESA radar that the Gripen and F-35A possess. The Eurofighter and Gripen lack the F-35As MADL data link, but it is of primary use for stealth aircraft and its usefulness compared to cost is questionable. The F-35As sensor features, while impressive on paper, have yet to be fully developed and are still being tested. The Eurofighter and Gripen sensor suites have been more thoroughly tested, so their capabilities are firmly known. The F-35As sensor technology is not so significant that it justifies the overall poorer performance in other areas and the vastly increased cost. It comes back to the cost-to-performance ratio. The F-35A simply costs too much and delivers too little.
About the Author:
Kyle Meema teaches business and law. In 2014, he expects to obtain his Masters in Air and Space Law from Leiden University in the Netherlands.
To Be Continued Tuesday On Defence Watch.
Why not get Block 60 F-16 E/F?
Author compares F-35A without external hard points to Gripen with external hard points.
In some cases Stealth is not important (say, after day 10 of a conflict) then a valid comparison would compare F-35 with external stores to Gripen. First days of a conflict Gripen would have to hunker down and wait in dispersed and camouflaged hides, and only after that, come up to fight with what was left. Lower cost of a Gripen fleet has to be weighed against the fraction lost in the first days of a conflict, and the damage that the inability of the Gripen fleet in high threat initial conflict.
I think it would be easier for the RCAF to transition from Hornets to Super Hornets.
Canada doesn’t need a stealth aircraft, they won’t be performing the same missions as the US.
Canada probably should go the Super Hornet like Australia did. Being a current Hornet user, the costs of going from classic Hornet to Super is minimal, the capability improvements are pretty good (especially if they get some Growlers in the mix), and the logistic tail hooks into the USN system.
More importantly, the costs of the F-35 are simply not justifiable to a country like Canada, especially considering that the Gripen NG will do 100% of what the F-35 would have done for Canada (because Canada will not be doing IADS penetration duties) at 15% of the cost. It is really a pretty open-and-shut case.
Is the F-35 better than the Gripen NG? Easy - yes it is. Far better. It is stealthier, it has better sensor networking, etc. However,does it give Canada any additional capabilities based on the probable missions Canada would be involved in? Not really. More importantly ...does that extra capability provided by the F-35 justify the cost overhang over the Gripen? Definitely not!
It is like comparing a Corvette C6 with a Bugatti Veyron SuperSport. Is the Veyron a better car (in terms of handling, speed, acceleration)? Definitely yes. However, the Bugatti Veyron SS costs US$2.4 million, while you can get the Corvette at a starting price of around US$51,000. While the Bugatti is a better performer, most people will never be able to utilize the extra oomph, and in terms of needs the two cars will meet the requirements of most people who like fast cars (apart from those who are true racers). Additionally, the extra 2 million Dollars price overhang over the Corvette only makes sense to those with the money to afford that car.
Same thing when it comes to Canada and the Buga ..I mean, the F-35 and the Gripen NG. While the F-35 has certain areas of capability that are better than the Gripen (with the ONLY major one being a certain level of stealthiness), the Gripen NG meets the requirements the Canadians need, and it is at a fraction of the cost of the F-35.
Unless the Canadians ever need to fight the Russians or the Chinese by themselves, the Gripen NG is more than sufficient for their needs (and if they did have to fight the Russians or Chinese by themselves, the F-35 would not be sufficient anyways to achieve any objectives).
I was totally against the US cutting down the F-22 numbers, but when it comes to Canada and the F-35 the Canadians would be absolutely stupid to not consider opting for another platform (e.g. the Gripen NG or the SuperHornet) over the F-35.
Neither the Gripen nor the F-16 Block 60 would solve that problem. Canada's best option would be the Super Hornet.
As for the article, it seems to be grasping at every negative straw. For example:
The F-35A also cannot carry the AGM-65 Maverick air-to-ground missile as it does not fit in the internal weapons bay. It can be equipped on one of the external hardpoints, but this greatly diminishes what little stealth advantage the F-35A enjoys.So the AGM-65 has to be carried externally, reducing the F-35A's stealth, so instead let's buy an aircraft that has no stealth at any time with any load?
I agree with you on everything. Gripen would suit Canada’s environment well, but I still think they should have a squadron of Super Hornets for away games.
The SuperHornet would definitely be the easiest transition for Canada. Furthermore, it has two engines which is an advantage for Canada (and a comfort for pilots flying over huge swathes of empty country).
Good friend of mine recently bought a Saab automobile. Cost him almost $50K. Then Saab closed their auto business. He can’t trade it in for more than $20K, now. Meanwhile, cost of parts has skyrocketed.
Go ahead, Canada. Buy Saab.
Thanks for this posting.
What is eye opening about this review is the operational costs beyond the initial purchase these things run Kyle Meema presents early on in his comparison report. To me it’s a must read for anyone who wishes to comment about defence purchases and a “atta boy” sukoi for picking this up and posting in FR’s.
We saw one of these on our local weather radar - it was flying in Europe at the time!
I don’t think that the author of the article understands that unless a fighter (and it’s pilot) can fly at oh, say, Mach 5 or 6, top speed isn’t a really big advantage anymore.
No doubt they should consider it, but I find the level of analysis presented in the article laughable.
Again, if Canada needs to fly missions in contested air space in the first few days of a conflict, stealth is an important part of the mix. I consider that it may take over a day to get the US involved (if under current administration, that ever happens. I don’t have a lot of love for current administration.)
After the first few days, assuming US air dominance is put in play, the Gripen would be a useful auxilary platform. Before then: nearly worthless. If Canada wants to depend completely on the US to defend its airspace, then why buy any at all? Zero is a lot cheaper than any alternative.
I would also poke fun at an analysis that depends heavily on max top speed. Max top speed isn’t used much. Simplicity, lightness of pitot inlets limits top speed to about Mach 1.6, but that is not a big factor in air combat because drag/fuel usage is very high there, and heat of SS reduces survivability. Supersonic speed is especially difficult when using many external hard points as the shock waves coming off the external stores interact. Range of supercruise depends on load, which also depends on where in a mission it occurs: Later in a mission, after fuel is burned off and weapons expended, greater SC range can be achieved.
This appears to be using Gripen furnished statistics: Max number of hard points which is critical, until you want max speed, upon which time hard points no longer matter and you can used a figure based on nearly slick load.
Noone knows what war will occur in the future. Smart money buys a range of capability, and attempts to cover weaknesses with diplomacy or spinelessness. I don’t think the proud Canadians like to hand over defense of their country for the first few days to the US, but I may be wrong.
Saab’s Auto business was sold to GM. GM has killed Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Saab, and Hummer, with more to come.
And being a SAAB, the ignition key is mounted on the floorboard below the joystick.
That's the same line of BS the Navy sold to Congress with a straight face.
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