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Saab Drives Down Gripen Cost Amid Export Push

Mar. 17, 2014 - 03:32PM   |  
By PIERRE TRAN   |   Comments
Lower Cost: Saab is using 3D design software to boost efficiency and drive down unit cost for the versions of its Gripen, including the two-seat D model.
Lower Cost: Saab is using 3D design software to boost efficiency and drive down unit cost for the versions of its Gripen, including the two-seat D model. (Saab)
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LINKOPING, SWEDEN — Saab expects to halve the cost of developing and building an upgraded E version of the single-engine Gripen fighter, seen as vital for extending the life of the combat jet, senior executives of the Swedish company said.

Lessons learned through Saab’s work on the Boeing 787, Dassault Aviation’s Neuron demonstrator for a combat drone and Catia software for 3D design lie behind that forecast, said Lennart Sindahl, deputy chief executive and head of aeronautics division.

Saab believes it has broken the so-called Augustine’s law, in which former Lockheed Martin Chief Executive Norman Augustine predicted only one fighter would be affordable in 2054, with the Air Force and Navy sharing it and the Marines getting use on a leap year.

Over the past 10 years, the Swedish company has cut costs in development, production, operation and maintenance on the C single-seat and D twin-seat Gripen models, Sindahl told journalists here during a press trip paid for by Saab.

“Yes we did it. We managed in C/D. With E, we continue this,” he said. “This is really a necessity.”

Sweden has set an “absolute ceiling on money” on buying 60 of the more capable and stealthier E version, so Saab must continue breaking a rising cost curve for building fighter aircraft, he said.

That order for Gripen E’s came as Stockholm faced needs for the other services, including modern corvettes for the Navy and tanks for the Army. Sweden faces budgetary pressure felt across Europe, with an aging population and calls for health care, education and infrastructure, he said.

“If the government buys top aircraft at tremendous price, what drawback does that give you?” Sindahl said. “A prime minister has to afford the other stuff.”

Swedish Air Chief Maj. Gen. Michel Brydén said Russia is a big factor. “We’re following very closely what is happening in Russia.

“The US is not building a bigger footprint in Europe, so the incentives are there for further reform we have to deal with,” he said. “We’re in a part of the world of interest to others.”

The Air Force’s requirements “drove up the cost curve,” he said. “We succeeded breaking the cost curve a few years ago, and we have been able to prove it. This is also a key factor for the future.”

Saab’s use of the Catia 8 3D design software from Dassault Systemes has been key in boosting productivity and cutting costs.

The design and modeling program allows a concurrent computer process that is doing away with the 70,000 documents used for the C/D units, said Lars Ydresko, head of aeronautics and aerostructures. On the Neuron demonstrator, this gave Saab simultaneous access among the 14 technical areas of development, he said.

Saab, therefore, increased productivity by 30 percent on converting the A/B version to C/D standard, while the target is a 50 percent increase for the E by 2016-17.

Work on a demonstrator aircraft for the Gripen E showed cost could be cut by 60 percent. That demonstrator and the Neuron helped “de-risk” the E, Sindahl said.

The process is expected to allow Saab to drop the number of test flights from 3,700 for the C/D to 1,200 for the E, saving money.“Flights cost,” Ydresko said.

On the equipment, Saab is buying and partially funding development of a more powerful General Electric F414G engine.

Airbus Defense & Space will supply a missile approach warning system.

Selex will deliver the Raven ES-05 active electronically scanned array radar and the Skyward G infrared search and track, said Bob Mason executive vice president of the Finmeccanica unit. Another Selex sensor will be an identification friend or foe system. Selex also hopes to win orders for an expendable active decoy, dubbed Brite Cloud, an alternative to the chaff defense against enemy radar-guided missiles.

Changes on the E will include raising its stealthiness.

“We looked at how much is it possible to lower the signature on the new aircraft,” Sindahl said. “It’s not stealth, that’s obvious. You can reduce to a certain level.”

In December, Brazil chose the Swedish fighter in a $4.5 billion deal over Boeing’s F/A-18 and Dassault’s Rafale.

Lt. Brigadier Junito Saito, Brazil’s air chief, told the Brazilian Senate Committee on external relations Feb. 27 that Gripen was chosen due in large part to agreement for local assembly and access to source code, which would allow Brazil to fit weapons from other countries, defense website SLD reported.

In Switzerland, voters will decide on May 18 whether to proceed with the government’s selection of the Gripen. If the vote is in favor of the Gripen, Swiss companies will receive business under an offset agreement, campaign director Richard Smith said. RUAG, last month, signed a 68 million Swiss franc (US $77 million) deal to develop and build fuel pylons for the E. Some 485 contracts worth a total 330 million francs have been signed with Swiss firms.

Meanwhile, Saab continues to seek export sales for the C/D versions, with discussions going on with Malaysia, including a possible lease, Sindahl said. Lease is possible with other potential clients.

The Asian region is very active, with more possibilities, Sindahl said.

Botswana is a potential customer in southern Africa, while the Brazil pick has stirred interest in South America. Hungary and the Czech Republic flying the Gripen has also drawn attention in Europe, with Slovakia and Estonia seen as prospects. Denmark is due to issue a request for information as a possible alternative to the F-35 joint strike fighter, Sindahl said.

These countries are potential customers for the C/D, which will continue to see upgrades but will stay with a mechanical radar.

Brazil, India and Thailand are seen as potential buyers of a Gripen naval version.

Hungary was the first export buyer of the Gripen, paying some $1 billion for a lease on 14 jets, with an option of purchase, Hungarian military attaché Gen. Nandro Kilian said. The annual purchase payments would be lower than the lease payments. Kilian was a Gripen and MiG-29 pilot. ■


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