After decades of development, setbacks and arguable success, sales of Saab’s flagship fighter jets are finally taking off. In February the Swedish Defence Materiel Administration (Försvarets Materielverk) on behalf of the Swedish Air Force (Flygvapnet) agreed to develop and acquire 60 of Saab’s newest generation of Gripen E fighter jets. The deal was first given the green light by the Swedish Parliament with an over-whelming majority back in December. The agreement worth a total of SEK 47.2 billion will take place between 2013 and 2026 and includes the upgrade of 60 existing Gripen C jets to the latest E model as well as a possible order from Switzerland. “This is a historic event for Saab,” declared Saab CEO Håkan Buskhe, “We’re taking the next step, which also greatly increases our export potential for many years to come.”
Switzerland is likely to be the next country to join a growing list of air forces operating the Gripen aircraft which includes South Africa, Hungary and Thailand. After a rigorous selection process, Switzerland settled on Saab’s Gripen over the French Rafale and as well as the Eurofighter Typhoon in November, 2012. Now the deal, which concerns the sale of 22 JAS Gripen E fighters, awaits the approval of politicians and may even require a national referendum. A decision should be reached by this summer. If Saab is able to secure the deal with Switzerland, it will greatly improve its chances to win other bids worldwide, most notably in Brazil.
The market for fighter jets is becoming increasingly crowded as manufacturers including France’s Dassault, the United States’ Lockheed Martin as well as Europe’s Eurofighter grapple to close cautious clients. As much of the western world cuts back on defence spending, defence suppliers are looking further afield to emerging markets in Latin America and Asia which are keen to expand theirburgeoning air forces. India, in particular, which is looking to add 126 new fighter jets to its skies, has been at the forefront of a courting war between defence giants. “I foresee an even tougher market,” predicted Bushke, “We are well positioned to meet these conditions with our research and development efforts.”
The Saab group which is now entirely dedicated to the niche defence and security sector seems to have survived from the loss of its automobile division relatively unscathed. By focusing on its core product, Saab has been able to carve out a sizable swath of sovereign airspace – and the share is only growing. With a 9% increase in orders over the past year, other countries are taking note. As Canada looks for alternatives to the notorious F-35s, the Swedish Gripen is even being touted as a viable set of wings for the Royal Canadian Air Force.
Photo credit: SAAB Group