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This story was originally published Feb. 18, 2016, at 5:09 p.m. EST.

SINGAPORE — Saab’s next-generation Gripen E combat jet will be rolled out of the assembly site at Linkopping, Sweden, on May 18, the company announced during a briefing with reporters at the Singapore Airshow.

No timing has been given for the first flight of the jet, which incorporates a raft of improvements over the earlier C/D version, most notably the addition of an active electronically scanned radar.Three aircraft are planned for the test phase of the new aircraft E/F variant, which has been purchased by Swedish and Brazilian air forces.

During the briefing, Saab officials confirmed that they expect to add Slovakia to the list of Gripen export fighter customers at some stage after the general election timed for next month.

The Slovakians are currently in negotiation with Saab to acquire 8 new C/D variant aircraft, said Richard Smith, the head of Gripen sales, on Feb 18.

“Negotiations are ongoing as they head into an election and most likely the contract will be signed after the election is over ,” said Smith.

The Gripen sales boss said the deal would be a purchase and not a lease.

The Czech and Hungarian air forces already operate the C/D version under lease arrangements. Saab also listed Croatia and Bulgaria as other potential customers for the fighter.

Saab will continue to produce and develop the C/D version alongside the new E/F variant into the future.

Smith said he believes Saab will secure around 300 Gripen sales over the coming years. A number of those could involve additional orders from existing customers.

The 36 Gripen E’s ordered by Brazil are just an initial order, the executive believes. An assembly line is being established in Brazil to build 15 of the aircraft.

Smith said a second country in Latin America was in dialogue with them to acquire the Gripen but he declined to name the air force in question.

One possibility is Colombia; it has a requirement and a budget to acquire a combat jet.

Discussions are under way with Thailand to acquire further C/D aircraft to add to the 12 they have already purchased in two batches of six.

A company officials said he was convinced there would be a third batch and the total order could eventually grow to two full squadrons of aircraft, a total of 36 machines.

Email: achuter@defensenews.com

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