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Singapore Airshow 2024: Saab's Gripen E sets sights on fighter procurement breakthroughs

21st February 2024 - 12:11 GMT | by Norbert Neumann in Singapore


The Gripen E/F had seen no success on the export market since a 2014 Brazilian Air Force contract but Saab has remained confident in its appeal to international customers. (Photo: Saab)

Saab can see glimmers of hope for its Gripen E multirole fighter jets, despite facing hurdles in recent fighter procurement competitions, as discussions unfold with Thailand, the Philippines and the Czech Republic.

Saab, the Swedish manufacturer of the Gripen E multirole fighter, has remained optimistic about its prospects in various fighter procurement competitions despite facing tough challenges over the past decade. With Thailand and the Philippines preparing for fighter modernisations, Saab has said that it can see potential opportunities on the horizon, along with the possibility of a lease extension for the Czech Republic’s Gripens.

Senior representatives from the two Southeast Asian countries have been in discussions with Saab, leading the company to state that it had a good chance of winning both fighter programmes.

Mikael Franzen, CMO of Saab Aeronautics, said he thought the Gripen E was “the best product for [Thailand and the Philippines], given the size of the countries and the need for availability to meet the threat levels”. Talking during a media roundtable at the Singapore Airshow 2024, Franzen also alluded to the likely possibility of a Czech Gripen lease extension.

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Saab has found itself in an uphill battle in recent fighter procurement competitions. Despite its reputation for offering significant value for investment, the JAS 39 Gripen E has faced tough competition from Lockheed Martin’s F-35, where, alongside cost considerations, political and strategic dynamics weigh heavily in procurement decisions. The Gripen E/F has seen no success on the export market since a 2014 Brazilian Air Force contract, but Saab remained confident, having its eyes on imminent opportunities for its multirole fighter. 

Future Gripen E sale opportunities for Saab

The Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) has been seeking a replacement for its fleet of 50 F-16A/B Block 15 aircraft. Considering the costs of today’s 4th/5th generation aircraft and Thailand’s defence budget, it would appear to be unlikely that the replacement would be carried out on a like-for-like basis, with the RTAF expected to procure up to two dozen fighters for about US$1.2 billion.

Bangkok’s first choice was the F-35, but the US DoD has informally declined Thailand’s request, citing inadequate infrastructure facilities to support the stealth fighter on Thailand’s side. The two contenders for the RTAF fighter replacement programme were expected to be the F-16 Block 70/72 and the Gripen E.

The Philippines, for its part, said in 2019 that it was considering the same two jets for its $1.1 billion multirole fighter procurement programme. It sought to purchase a squadron under the Horizon 2 programme, with another 12 jets desired under Horizon 3.

“[Thailand] is pursuing the programme; they have a time schedule that [calls] for selection this year, and contract award next year is their overarching plan,” Franzen said, adding that the timeline for the Philippines fighter competition was expected to be similar.

With the Czech Republic $6.6 billion F-35 deal now sealed, Saab’s hope of a new fighter deal in the central European country has gone. The lease agreement on the Czech Air Force’s current fleet of Gripen C/Ds, however, will expire in 2029, two years before the F-35s start arriving in the country. Prague was seeking a lease extension on the 14 Gripens it currently operates so that it would not fall into the same quandary as neighbouring Slovakia, which ordered 14 F-16 Block 70 fighters in 2018, but suffered delivery delays due to part shortages.

Both Thailand and the Philippines have been considering the F-16V and the Gripen E fighter jets. (Photo: Saab)

“I had the [Czech] deputy minister of defence here yesterday and [the country is] still planning to use the Gripens until 2035…and the Gripens will continue to protect the Czech airspace and countries in the Baltics for another 10 years,” Franzen remarked.

Asked whether the lease agreement extension was confirmed, Franzen said: “It’s an FMV [Swedish Defence Materiel Administration or Försvarets materielverk] deal, and they have to agree, but we will honour to support the Czech Republic.” He added that a follow-on order, even solely for fighter jet support, would be “pretty good business” for Saab.

Austria, which operates 15 ageing Eurofighter Tranche 1s, could also provide an opportunity for Saab’s Gripen. Franzen said that while Austria planned to fly the current fleet as long as it could, “it needs to do something eventually”. The four-nation Typhoons were expected to remain in service until 2032, but Vienna has announced its intention to retire them prematurely.

Franzen also mentioned India as an opportunity with a “huge need” and lots of “ageing” aircraft. 

“[India] has the Tejas and the Rafales, but there is still need for the MRFA [Medium Multi-Role Fighter Aircraft] procurement, so we are active in India as well,” he noted.

Shephard's Singapore Airshow 2024 coverage is sponsored by:

Defence Insight
Norbert Neumann


Norbert Neumann

Norbert is the Aviation, Military Training & Simulation reporter at Shephard Media. Before joining Shephard in …

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