Thursday, April 22, 2010

IAF team flies Gripen Demo in Sweden with operational AESA radar


By: 8ak
One of the few benefits of the ongoing flight ban over parts of Europe meant that 8ak got extra time when we caught up with Eddy de la Motte, Director India for Gripen (Saab). Mr Motte confirmed that India had sent an IAF team to Sweden 2 weeks ago and flew the Gripen Demo making it the only foreign air force to have flown the advanced version of Saab's Gripen Demonstrator. IAF pilots did about 10 flights in Linkoping. Mr Motte said that in mid-May 2010 the Gripen Demonstrator will be sent to India and confirmed that the Gripen Demo was flown with a fully operational AESA radar developed jointly by Selex and Saab Microwave (Formerly Ericsson Microwave).
There was some controversy last month when the FMV (Swedish Defence Materiel Administration) blocked Saab from sending the Gripen Demo fighter to India on the basis that the only plane was needed by the Swedish Air Force for further testing. The RFP for the MMRCA states that the plane offered in response to the tender should be the one that is used for trials but as per Ajai Shukla, the IAF+MoD will give Saab some leeway in this. While this may cause the competitors to cry foul, it is a good sign that the IAF+MoD are using their discretion, where allowed, to assist them selecting the best fighter and this could work to advantage of others as well. For example, Eurofighter, for one is hoping that the dreaded 'L1' (lowest bidder) clause would not be the deciding factor where multiple fighters qualify in the final round.

To clarify, Saab's Gripen aircraft has 4 versions from A to D, then comes the Gripen Demo which is a demonstrator aircraft (and hence different to Gripen D) for the next generation version planned for India interchangeably called the Gripen NG or IN.

To date, Saab has conducted about 20 flights in India, mostly in Bangalore's Aircraft Systems & Testing Establishment (ASTE) where 2 Gripen-D fighters did low-level, high-speed supersonic tests. In Jaisalmer the 2 aircraft did a weapons release test and one aircraft sent to Leh did landing, engine cold start and take off with full internal fuel plus 2.6 tonnes external load.

Manu Sood, Editor, 8ak mentioned that the American components in the Gripen, mainly the GE F414 engine, is viewed by India as its biggest drawback. Motte said that if that was a genuine concern, then India would not have bought the P-8i and C-130-J aircraft which will play a crucial role in future conflicts and the IAF would not have considered the two U.S. fighters in the MMRCA competition nor the same GE F414 engine for its Tejas LCA which is now in the final stages of a race between that and the Eurojet 200.

Asked what he thinks is Saab’s strongest point, he said "Gripen is the only option that will make India completely independent of the need to purchase combat aircraft from other countries. Gripen IN is equipped with futuristic warfare technologies developed specifically for India and a perfect match to the IAF". He further mentioned that the low operational cost will translate in to more training hours and he believes Saab is the only company to not only offer a complete ToT on the source codes of the AESA radar (though Russia has promised something similar) but also joint development.

Saab did not comment on the issue of revising the bid price. Earlier AviationWeek had reported that since the commercial bids were valid for 2 years ending Apr 28, 2010, this meant that the vendors could now revise their commercial bids. Given the worsening economic situation globally and huge competitive pressure on this large and geo-politically important deal, surprisingly it means that the bids would be revised downwards! However, a person familiar with defence acquisition told 8ak that "sometimes a simple procedure like collecting certificates from vendors saying we are ready to give the same price also fulfils the need".

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