Comparing the Viper Block 50/52+ versus the Gripen E – July 2013 Part Three

‘IRST’
One advantage the Gripen NG has over the Viper Block 50/52+ is that it has an Infra Red Search and Track (IRST) system. An IRST has become common in fighter aircraft the last couple of decades because they offer the advantage of PASSIVE detection and tracking of enemy aircraft. Unlike radar, and IRST system does not send out signals that can be detected by its enemy, hence enhancing its stealth capabilities.

It is not a perfect system, though, as certain atmospheric conditions can hinder its effectiveness, but when it does work, an aircraft could effectively sneak up on its opponents without being detected and fire its missiles.[1] Aircrafts use it mainly as a COMPLEMENT to their radar system, using it only when the weather opportunity allows it so.

Only very few versions of the F-16 has an IRST sensor, and the United States Air Force (USAF) seems to have no plans of installing one on their F-16s, preferring to install these instead on their F-15 and F-18 aircrafts. On the other hand, IRSTs have been standard equipment on almost all modern European and Russian fighter aircrafts.

‘Aircraft Price’
Determining the INDIVIDUAL AIRFRAME COST of each aircraft is kind of tricky, because aircraft manufacturers do NOT release such information in general. Like sleazy-used car salesmen, these manufacturers insist on “bundling” stuff with the aircraft when it comes to pricing, trying to make you think you are really paying less overall despite having to pay more initially.

There are some websites that release the supposed individual prices of aircrafts, but unless they can show a good, solid, source, I don’t find them very credible at all. Hence, for the prices of the Gripen NG and Viper Block 50/52+, all we can do at the moment is look at past deals, and try to derive the individual cost of each aircraft based on the bundled price. Here are the data for each of these 2 aircrafts:

* Viper Block 50/52+
– Greece, USD 3.1 Billion, 40 aircrafts at USD 77.5 Million each[2]
– Pakistan, USD 3 Billion, 36 aircrafts at USD 83.3 Million each[3]
– Egypt, USD 3.2 Billion, 24 aircrafts at USD 133.3 Million each[4]

* Gripen E
– Switzerland, USD 3.1 Billion, 22 aircrafts at USD 140.9 Million each[5]
– Sweden, USD 3.2 Billion, 22 aircrafts at USD 145.4 Million each[6]

One thing you will notice with the above data is that the “Bundled” prices all seem to be CONSTANT at around USD 3 Billion, with the only difference is the quantity of aircraft. This seems to me like a minimum limit in terms of cost that manufacturers require for a production run of new aircrafts. What is happening is that a mix of number of aircrafts and related equipment and perks are being offered, as long as the total cost is fixed at around USD 3 Billion. For example, the mix is like either aircraft and less equipment/weapons/perks (i.e. simulators, etc.), or vice versa, less aircraft, more equipment/weapons/perks.

If you look at the above orders with SIMILAR QUANTITY, like acquisition of Egypt, Sweden and Switzerland, the individual prices of the Viper and Gripen are actually quite CLOSE. However, the above information also show that for the same overall bundled price, it is possible for you to buy around twice the number of aircraft, like Greece’s acquisition, for example.

Because it has more features and more advanced technology, I don’t think you would be able to buy as many aircrafts for the same bundled price for the Gripen E as you would with the Viper as those technologies and features will mean the Gripen will be inherently more expensive than the Viper. So to me this means that OVERALL, the Viper Block 50/52+ is CHEAPER compared to the Gripen E as of now.

‘Maintainability, Ruggedness and Availability’
A recent, comprehensive study by the prestigious Jane’s publishing group found that the Gripen has the LOWEST Cost Per Flight Hour (CPFH) among 4th generation fighters. CPFH took into account things like Fuel, Consumables, Depreciation, Manpower, etc., and the study calculated that the Gripen’s CPFH was only USD 4,700. Its nearest competitor was the F-16, whose CPFH was almost 50% higher at USD 7,000.[7] This means whatever savings you might get from the initial cost of the unit with the F-16, it will likely eventually be taken back during the operation throughout the life of the aircraft.

One big issue with the Gripen E, though, is the availability. Although firm orders from Sweden and Switzerland are in place, the aircraft won’t start delivery until 2018,[5][6] or half a decade away from now. Prototypes are already flying and ongoing testings and certifications,[8] but a lot could still happen during this phase. Problems could be found, and cause further delays in the production delivery of the aircraft. Even worst is that aside from delays, cost overruns could occur which could further increase the cost of the aircraft.

On the other hand, Viper Block 50/52+ aircrafts has been flying for at least half a decade now, and production of this aircraft is still currently ongoing and will continue up to 2016.[9] This means the aircraft is already tested and proven, and we will likely be able to get this sooner than the Gripen E. This is a big advantage, considering that the urgency of our situation due to the ongoing belligerence of China.

‘Overall Summary’
To summarize each aircraft:
* Gripen E:
PROS:
– Stealthier (lower Radar Cross-Section)
– Superior avionics (AESA Radar, Infra Red Search and Track)
– Superior maneuverability
– Cheaper to operate in the long run.
CONS:
– Inferior payload and range
– More expensive initial price
– Not yet proven and not readily available, and possible delays in long delivery date and increase in cost

* Viper Block 50/52+:
PROS:
– Better payload and range
– Cheaper initial price
– Tested and proven model, more easily available resulting in sooner delivery date
CONS:
– Not as stealthy
– Inferior avionics
– Inferior maneuverability
– More expensive to operate in the long run

Technically, the Gripen E is SUPERIOR to the Viper ALMOST ALL aspects. But these projections are just on paper as of now, there is some risk in terms of the delivery, cost and performance of the aircraft. The Viper is superior to the Gripen in NON-TECHNICAL aspects like delivery and price, and its proven design. Given the urgency of the situation with China, it would seem that the F-16 would be better choice for the Philippines, at least for the next 3-5 years.

After that time frame.though, IF developments with the Gripen will continue to be POSITIVE, then things will change DRASTICALLY, as it will then favor the Gripen more because its advanced technical specifications means it will be able to meet future threats at a longer period of time, especially if China starts fielding even more advanced aircraft in bulk. A successful Gripen E program may even finally usher the obsolescent of the Viper.

Since nobody can accurately predict the future, this is a hard choice to make, but as of now, the wise choice would probably to go with the F-16.

SOURCES:

[1] Infra-red search and track, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infra-red_search_and_track

[2] Greek F-16 & Weapons Buys Taking Off, http://www.defenseindustrydaily.com/greek-f16-weapons-sale-clearing-for-takeoff-01397/

[3] $5.1B Proposed in Sales, Upgrades, Weapons for Pakistan’s F-16s, http://www.defenseindustrydaily.com/51b-proposed-in-sales-upgrades-weapons-for-pakistans-f16s-02396/#new

[4] Egypt to Spend up to $3.2B Adding to F-16C/D Fleet, http://www.defenseindustrydaily.com/egypt-to-spend-32b-in-updating-f-16cd-fleet-05860/

[5] Sweden confirms sale of Gripen to Switzerland, http://www.thelocal.se/42874/20120828/

[6] Saab Closes in on Swiss Gripen Deal With Swedish Guarantees, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-08-28/saab-closes-in-on-swiss-gripen-deal-as-sweden-guarantees-timing.html

[7] Gripen operational cost lowest of all western fighters: Jane’s, http://www.stratpost.com/gripen-operational-cost-lowest-of-all-western-fighters-janes

[8] Gripen News, http://www.saabgroup.com/en/Air/Gripen-Fighter-System/Gripen-News/

[9] Lockheed Martin Has Enough Orders To Keep Building F-16 Jet Fighters Through 2016, http://www.businessinsider.com/lockheed-to-keep-building-f-16s-2012-12#ixzz2ZJIui2A2

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8 thoughts on “Comparing the Viper Block 50/52+ versus the Gripen E – July 2013 Part Three”

  1. in regards to features maybe the gripens is superior to the f-16s. but the f-16 is a proven war veteran. it could be in calculations gripens are superior but dont know in a true dog fight they can be reliable without any combat experience pilot. it was been noted before such as f-4 is inferior against the mig-21 and mig 23 but the israelis has proven that they were wrong. also when the su-27s and mig 29s were introduce they said these will run rings on the f-15s and f-16s,,,again the israelis and the americans prove them wrong. because it is not only about the aircraft but sometimes a battled tested pilot such as the americans and israelis could spell the difference. just like what happened in the gulf war an f-111 was pursued by a superior fightter an f-1 mirage but the f-111 pilot out maneuvered the f-1 mirage and the result the mirage crash to the ground.

  2. a plane with stealth capabilities vs a plane without stealth capabilities is a no contest. the skill of a pilot is indeed a factor. but with due respect, i highly doubt that the pilot’s skill would matter when you can’t even detect your enemy while he is already tracking you and letting loose some missiles. the f-16s did amazingly against the russian fighters because the capabilities of the former didn’t fall far behind from the latter. but when you are fighting a ghost, that is a different story all together.the f-22 raptors are not combat proven fighters, but would you conclude that they are less superior than an f-18?

  3. also, we must think of the maintenance cost when we purchase an equipment. that is where the gripen truly wins over the viper as it is 49% cheaper to operate. moreover, the gripen was designed for STOL. It has a short turn around time, which is what a country with small number of planes needs. also, the gripen was designed to fight against a country with a massive airforce (the Soviet Union). That is what the Phl is facing right now. I love the f-16 reliability. but i’m afraid that it will become another f-5 or f-8.

    1. Thanks for the link, that is indeed another example of the “real-world” price of the Gripen. At that price, the logistical support will ensure that the plane will keep flying for a long time, and that it will be heavily armed …

  4. for the PAF’s case, what it if starts instead with leased Gripen C or D…anyway, i think our air force will still need to set itself up as credible organization that can operate and maintain really advanced aircraft like the Gripen E and this might take several years from now at the least

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