“We have operational dominance. The Gripen is a very capable product. It has strategic reach, in that, it can range from the Straits of Malacca to the Persian Gulf, with a range of 4,000 kms. India has a long coastline, so that is important. It has supercruise capabilities and a high payload capacity. It has a long lifecycle. We have short delivery times (The first Gripen was delivered to the Czech Air Force after ten months of award of the contract),” says da la Motte.
He points out the assured upgrade potential of the aircraft by pointing out the already existing plan for the development of the fighter. “We are aiming at full continued full scale development of the aircraft. The Swedish Air Force and the Swedish Parliament agree that the prime weapon for the Swedish Air Force will be the Gripen,” says de la Motte, adding, “It is planned to continue development of the aircraft at least till 2030.”
“For India, it is the right product, it is the most modern and we are the most reliable vendors, in that, our service and supplies will not be subject to sanctions. We are able and willing for technology transfer,” he submits.
Gripen is also noted for its low cost per unit compared to aircraft manufactured by other vendors. “How do we keep costs low?” asks de la Motte. “Small is beautiful. We decided we didn’t need to indulge in debates about which company or country would build what component. We have fewer people and we use rational methods for managing costs,” he answers, adding, “Operationally, the Gripen is probably the only aircraft to have the capacity to be maintained outside air bases. Any system failures can be detected with system tests built into the aircraft. There are around 5,000-6,000 such parameters upon which these system tests can be carried out. If something happens out of ordinary system processes, the system will give a sort of ‘early warning’ to the technician the next time it is checked.”
Gripen’s business strategy has been looking to create market for its aircraft by identifying nations that may be looking to upgrade their air fleet. “That is our strategy. We have been looking at countries that have ageing aircraft and may want to upgrade. We are looking at the market just as the market is looking at us. Our major buyers are the Czech Republic, Hungary and South Africa. In terms of transfer of technology, Brazil has very similar requirements of us as compared to India. In fact we expect flight trials to happen in March or April this year. We anticipate a selection by August and a possible contract at the end of this year,” says de la Motte.
Gripen is unique in its ability to operate out of Forward Operating Bases (FOBs). When the Swedish Air Force first asked for this aircraft, it specifically asked it to be designed to be able to land on public roads. This was because, in the event of a Russian air invasion, the main threat during the Cold War, the Swedes could not guarantee continued operation of their air bases. So they distributed stores around the country near roads where the aircraft could land, be serviced and take off to continue operations again.
De la Motte explains, “This would not work on the average Indian road. but the system is simple. Traffic policemen would stop all the cars on a road and the aircraft would land. It would be serviced by a crew of five technicians in a truck with fuel, tools, some parts and ammunition. The turnaround time would be ten minutes.
This is not part of standard procedure for all air forces operating the Gripen. This is a typically Swedish innovation. But certainly the capability is standardized in all Gripen fighter aircraft.
While the Swedish approach to this capability is for a defensive purpose, this capability can translate into offensive capabilities as well depending on the specific strategic needs of a nation.”