‘Small Radar Cross Section’
The Gripen is a small aircraft, you could say it is tiny, even, especially when compared to the Sukhoi Superfighters like the SU-30MK. But one advantage of its small size combined with its delta-wing configuration and smooth lines is that it has a very small Radar Cross Section (RCS). RCS means the measure of how detectable an object is to radar, and is expressed in terms of area in square meters (m^2). The higher the number, the easier to detect by radar, and vice versa, the lower the number, the harder it is to detect by radar. The available data for the JAS-39A version of the Gripen is 0.1m^2.
This is particularly small, especially when you compare it with large fighters like China’s SU-30MKK or Chengdu J-11. The RCS for those fighters are not available, but the RCS for the SU-27 from which those aircrafts were based on is between 10-15m^2. This means that the RCS of the Gripen is approximately 100 times LESS than that of China’s main frontline fighters. Of course when missiles are added the RCS for all these aircrafts will rise, but since the Gripen has a lower RCS to begin with, it will always have a lower RCS than the SU-30MKK/J-11.
This is important in combat because it means that the Gripen will always be harder to detect by radar because of its low RCS, and vice versa the SU-30MKK/J-11 will always be easier to detect by radar because of its much bigger RCS. This gives the Gripen even the advantage in terms of detecting its opponents first and firing off the first shot.
‘Air to Air Missiles’
I think it is important for the PhAF to remember that the Gripen is just a WEAPONS PLATFORM, and that without the proper WEAPONS itself, it will not be very useful. AT THE VERY LEAST, such an expensive and advanced aircraft should be paired with an equally advanced (and expensive) Air to Air Missile (AAM) also to be able to defend itself well, or else it will just be an expensive target practice for its opponents. I see these AAMs to be an ESSENTIAL PART of the aircraft, without which the Gripen would be INCOMPLETE.
First, it should be armed with a medium range air to air missile to enable it to shoot down its opponents Beyond Visual Range (BVR), especially since China’s fighter aircraft has lots of these also. The best medium range AAM for me right now available from western countries is the AIM-120 Advanced Medium Range Air to Air Missiles (AMRAAM). There are other good alternatives out there also in this class, like Israel’s Derby AAM, or Germany’s Infra Red Imaging System Tail/Thrust Vector-Controlled (IRIS-T), but I feel the AMRAAM is the best because of its range. The “C” versions of the AMRAAM has a range of over 100km, while the newer “D” version has at least 150km range. This long reach is again important as China’s AAMs have long ranges also, particularly the PL-12 which rivals the AIM-120C’s range.
Lastly, the Gripens should also be armed with advanced short range AAMs with Infra-Red (IR) Guidance, as these will serve as INSURANCE against future technology that MIGHT be able to defeat the active-homing radar of missiles like the AMRAAM, like the emerging Digital Radio Frequency Memory (DRFM, which basically tries to deceive active-homing radar with false signals). Modern IR missiles are much more difficult to deceive or counter, making them inherrently more reliable. There are a couple of excellen choices out there for IR AAMs, ranging from Israel’s Python to the United States’ AIM-9X Sidewinder.
The Gripen should have BOTH of these types of missiles to ensure good survivability in any shooting war with China.
The combination of its advanced AESA Radar and its stealth characteristics, plus its Weapons Data Link capability allowing only aircrafts to share information with its other, its low RCS and (if equipped with) advanced AAMs means the Gripen will have pretty good capability even against China’s most advanced frontline fighters, at least for the next 10-15 years.
Overall, it is a pretty good aircraft to have, for defensive purposes such as ours. There are better aircrafts our there for offensive purposes, like the Sukhoi Superfighters from Russia, but if you factor in other stuff like MAINTAINABILITY and RELIABILITY, COST and the fact that it will be used for mainly defensive purposes, then it could well be the best aircraft available for the Philippines right now. I hope that plans to acquire these aircrafts will push thru in the near future.
(End of 2-Part Series)
– Gripen Radar Cross Section, http://www.saairforce.co.za/forum/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=1552
– Radar Cross Section (RCS), http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/stealth-aircraft-rcs.htm
– Raytheon (Hughes) AIM-120 AMRAAM, http://www.designation-systems.net/dusrm/m-120.html
– Raytheon AIM-120 AMRAAM, http://www.bga-aeroweb.com/Defense/AMRAAM.html