Military and Strategic Journal
Issued by the Directorate of Morale Guidance at the General Command of the Armed Forces
United Arab Emirates
Founded in August 1971

2019-04-07

Gripen Efficient and Sustainable Future Fighter

Modern fighter jets have an operational lifespan of 8,000 total hours of flight time. They fly for an average of 200 hours each year, meaning that they can expect to achieve high-performance missions or sorties for 30-40 years. 

As fighter jets present a major investment for governments, they must remain effective throughout their entire operational life, being adaptable to each significant new technology or threat arising during their time in service. The raison d’être of Gripen is thus to retain longevity alongside innovation.

Open, Adaptable Architecture
Gripen’s conceptual designers have opted for open architecture to ensure the sustainability of their fighter platforms while using technology that doesn't have to be built in-house. The overall aim is to enable the rapid integration of new technology and functions as they are developed, so engaging and defeating new combat challenges without excessive cost or downtime. Gripen has been designed with a long-term future in mind. 

As technology advances rapidly, threats do too and it is imperative that a modern combat aircraft does not become obsolete in the ten years after its launch. Upgrades are thus essential to ensure adaptability, but it is also vital that they are easy to manage, quick to implement and sustainable in terms of affordability.  

Gripen’s Tomorrow Today
The evolution of Gripen started in the late 1970s, when Saab Aeronautics designers described their department as “basically having a blank sheet of paper to fill”. By 1993, an initial exploration had been conducted of what Gripen could look like in the future when, at this time, research included investigating ideas about extending sensing capabilities, storage capacity, missile range and the fighter’s endurance. 

Fighting in modern conflicts requires being constantly one step ahead of opponents. Rapid technological progress has driven the development of longer-reach weapons and radars with greater precision, low signature targets and advanced electronic warfare.

Today, Gripen takes advantage of new functional materials – notably, nanotechnology - where thanks to huge advances in manufacturing and development, it has become clear that future fighters may soon have radically different properties. Such innovations include airframes that are regularly and easily replaced, so while the inside of the fighter continues to be developed and enhanced, the future Gripen and its successors will benefit from the technologies being developed today.

Environmental considerations have also been addressed in designing the Gripen of the future. Saab has already conducted test flights using 100 percent biofuel, while manufacturing processes are constantly being enhanced to make them more environmentally sustainable.

Air combat is now defined by technology. Moreover, with the evolution of the battlespace, a fighter needs to be able to handle many more conflict responsibilities than before and perform them quicker than ever too.

Gripen both shares and displays the correct tactical information. The precision objective is to provide the pilot with an optimised battlespace overview at exactly the right moment.

Upgradable Technology
It’s almost impossible to imagine that the smartphone in your pocket has anything in common with Gripen, one of the most modern fighters in aviation history. Yet these two rather different objects have more similarities between them than would first meet the eye insofar as both rely on technology that can be upgraded and updated without the need for costly replacements.

Upgradable technology ensure continual performance at optimal levels, with smartphone and Gripen fighter developed with built-in flexibility, enabling the original product to be customised to meet the user’s changing needs. In the same way as you download apps for your smartphone to match your individual preferences, Gripen’s software adaptations address new and evolving types of threats because the ability to customise the functionality of the fighter to address future needs is due to the adaptability of the advanced Avionics Platform Software (APS) architecture embedded in Gripen software.

Avionics Software Architecture
Thousands of hours have been spent developing the many thousands of lines of code constituting the avionics software for the Gripen E/F, the latest generation of Gripen. Moreover, this is far from a static process, with the technology becoming increasingly advanced and Gripen evolving with it.

The avionics architecture for Gripen separates flight-critical functions - the functions that ensure the safety and security of pilots - from mission critical functions, which include intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, as well as communication, radio and navigation systems for combat and peace-keeping operations. Mission functions can thus be upgraded without having to retest safety critical functions.

Gripen has been supplied with software that is as generic as possible, making it much easier to upgrade software. Protocols, for instance, are standardised when integrating new functionality or a new weapons system, ensuring that the Saab has no additional need to upgrade the computers. 

The avionics architecture also enables the integration of tailor-made customer applications to reduce the risk of the system becoming obsolete. Thanks to the flexible avionic architecture, almost any weapon can be integrated to give the fighter exceptionally high weapon flexibility, entailing that one of the great benefits of the avionics architecture design is the elevated level of software customisation.

The avionics architecture separated in Gripen E/F is certified to the highest level of software technicality, meaning that, in software terms, Gripen E is one of the most secure fighter systems on the market. Since its first flight in June 2017, each of the Gripen E computers has been updated in addition to tweaking the hardware and its performance. 

Air-To-Air Refuelling 
In using NATO-standard aircraft fuel and other replenishables, Gripen is fully NATO compatible. Gripen refuelling can be performed while the fighter is in the air, entailing that air-to-air refuelling is a standard on Gripen. 

For technicians, this adaptability means that it not necessary to perform refuelling on the ground, thus leaving more airtime for sorties. The upshot of this feature is that pilots can get more fuel halfway through a sortie without having to land.

Practical Landing Strips 
Gripen was designed to take off and land using designated areas of the existing Swedish road system, which were built for use as temporary runways and airbases in case the country experienced a military invasion. These so-called road bases are often narrow and short, requiring that the fighter jets use them be able to handle short take-offs and landings, as well as providing easy outdoor maintenance and service. 

Therefore, Gripen can take off and land on runways that are just 800 metres long and 16 metres wide. In turn, the fighter has been designed for all types of weather and runway conditions, including the harsh snow-covered runways in the Arctic climates found in northern Sweden.

The Invisible Gripen E/F 
Evolving continuously in order to keep up with new challenges, the key feature of the latest model of Gripen - Gripen E/F, is an ability to attack or assess opposition at range. Gripen E/F has hence been developed to counter and defeat the most advanced threats in a modern battlespace. 

Gripen utilises all the data available in the battle cloud entailing that the Gripen E/F can see the unseen, so reducing its likelihood of being detected by relying on its passive sensors, or through active jamming. Owing to this innovation, weapons can be used either beyond the point at which opposing forces can respond or without opponents ever realising that Gripen was there.

The ability to attack or assess opposition at range hence requires that the Gripen E/F utilises all the data available in the battle cloud, whether coming from Gripen fighters or other air, land or sea-based units. This data is not only fused locally on every platform but fused globally between fighters, entailing that Gripen E/F reduces its likelihood of being detected by relying on its passive sensors, or through active jamming.   

Intuitive Battlespace Control
When at the peak of a complex mission, the human brain can only handle a certain number of inputs at once. Gripen E/F achieves the optimal balance between the pilot's and the fighter's decision space, letting fighter intelligence take on a more prominent role. 

Gripen E/F’s fighter intelligence has the capability to work autonomously on several areas simultaneously, so providing the pilot with suggestions ranging from weapon selection to full manoeuvre of the fighter. The platform shares and displays the right tactical information with precision timing to provide an optimised battlespace overview permitting the Gripen pilot to maintain control intuitively.

Advanced Electronic Warfare
Fighters entering the modern battlefield need to act in high-threat environments, such as contested air space, while handling Integrated Air Defence Systems. Gripen E/F hence carries a variety of both active and passive measures to disrupt enemy efforts while protecting itself and other friendly units. 

Its advanced electronic warfare system, similar to an electronic shield, allows the Gripen E/F to disrupt the enemy’s ability to function effectively, so assisting either in the destruction of enemy assets or simply reducing the enemy’s understanding and ability to react. Each of these actions are performed in the name of ensuring mission success through the use of the latest weaponry and countermeasures whose freedom of action allows Gripen E/F pilots to defeat any threat anywhere and return home safely.

 Key Gripen E/F Features
A fighter mission is comparable to large scale chess games, where the fighter allows combatants to achieve the right level of situational awareness in order to communicate the correct information and take the required decision. This same chess analogy applies regardless of whether the mission requiring performance is air-to-air, reconnaissance or air-to-ground being that, in all cases, the fighter needs the following types of feature:

• Information

• Movements

• Weapons

Although the Gripen E/F fighter is equipped with the latest available technics in the key areas listed above, in the following sections we will present some of the features that make the Gripen E/F the ‘Smart Fighter’.

AESA: AESA stands for Active Electronically Scanned Array meaning that, in contrast to older generation radars, it has one main antenna alongside a full array of small antennas, called elements. This technology ensures that the radar can track different targets simultaneously and independently, while also tracking targets independently of search volumes.

Network Centric: Gripen E/F is a Network Centric fighter communicating two ways with all armed units and with a secure and multi-frequency data-link system providing total situation awareness. Along with information about each Gripen’s position, fuel and weapon status, the information acquired is shared with other Gripen fighters via the data link.

Survivability: Gripen E/F is built for high survivability in a combat environment with tactics based on smart use of a variety of electronic warfare capabilities. The RWR (Radar Warning Receiver) enables an accurate sensor to detect emitting threats such as radars, while the Missile Approach Warning (MAW) system can detect and track incoming missiles of all types.

Infra Red Search and Track (IRST): IRST is an electro-optical system mounted on top of the nose just in front of the canopy, looking forward in a wide sector to register heat emissions from other aircraft, including helicopters, as well as from objects on the ground and sea surface. The tactical advantage of a passive sensor is that it will never give your position away.

Weapons and Pods: Almost any weapon can be integrated on to the Gripen E/F, giving the platform very high weapon flexibility partly due to the flexible avionic architecture. Thanks to its well-documented ease of new weapon integration, Gripen has served as the main test platform for Meteor, the latest long-range air-to-air missile.

Electronic Warfare: The highly-advanced EW system can function as a passive or active sensor warning for incoming missiles or radar looking directly at your platform, entailing that it can also be used for electronic attacks and jamming other radars. The EW system can further enhance survivability when coupled to countermeasures such as chaff and flares.

Multi-Role Capability
The Gripen E/F has weapons for all types of mission, from guided glide bombs for precision engagement with low collateral damage to long-range and agile air-to-air missiles and heavy anti-ship armaments. In addition, the aircraft has an inherent precision strike and stand-off capability.

The single-seat Gripen E is equipped with a 27 mm Mauser BK27 gun used in air-to-surface attacks against land and sea targets, while being suitable for air policing missions. The Gripen E/F can also carry pods and sensors for reconnaissance and special missions, which include Litening, Reccelite, DJRP and MRPS pods.

Amongst the promising candidate areas for future Gripen development are enhanced sensors and weapons, with complementary unmanned components and autonomous control enabling missions to monitor interaction between manned and unmanned aircraft. This approach will enable the integration of more advanced tasks, such as aircraft releasing small subsystems of aircraft decoys that fly for a few minutes, as well as disposable surveillance robots and other systems that aid the pilot by gathering vital defence information to keep the pilot and the fighter out of harm’s way.

The promise is that, by the mid-2040s, Gripen will lead a new generation of air systems. As it stands, this hi-tech jet-fighter platform will include new generation weapons, sensors, functional materials and multi-spectral stealth technology. 

Reference Text/Photo:www.saab.com

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