As a cost-effective means of entering the generation 4+ club, the Gripen, dubbed Saab’s Smart Fighter, serves as a desirable option on the international fighter market. The new NG model will surely create a sensation when unveiled on May 18. Equipped with the latest fighter technology, the Gripen, it seems, has made a niche for itself among countries looking to spend less. Brazil has recently ordered 36 of the fighters, joining a list of small, economically conscious operators. So what is the next step for Gripen?
Enter the Sea Gripen
In a rather unorthodox move for Saab, the Gripen might get its sea-legs. Since 2011, Saab has been developing the NG as a naval asset in Britain to take advantage of the experience the naval power offers. Although Sweden has no aircraft carrier and therefore no domestic requirement, the Swedish strategy of dispersed basing lends itself to naval fighters. Already designed to take off in a short distance from motorways, the Gripen can be accommodated for both CATOBAR and STOBAR operations. The flexibility the Gripen offers gives countries with a smaller naval air arm the muscle to compete with the bigger players.
Any country with a flight deck is a potential customer; however, the market for Sea Gripen is narrow. Russia, France and the U.S. prefer to use indigenous fighters, while the U.K. has settled on the F-35.
The Saab naval fighter would therefore shine where its terrestrial sibling always has, among low-cost operators. Finding a country with a relatively small budget and a carrier can be difficult. Brazil and India both have carriers capable of deploying the Sea Gripen and, since the former has placed an order for 36 land-based NGs, it would be a likely buyer. Brazil also benefits from technology-sharing agreements that mean the fighter could be produced locally. In addition, Sao Paulo’s aging fleet of A-4s is in dire need of replacement.
Brazil might therefore be the only country to field the Sea Gripen in the future. Sharing the NG’s hardware, the fighter is sure to deliver if it can secure a buyer.
With its unveiling in May, we await the next generation of the Gripen with an eye to the sea.
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