Revised March 26, 2014. See bottom of the page for the complete revision history
Aside from the F-16C Fighting Falcon, another aircraft that the Philippine Air Force (PAF) has its sights on for the Philippines’ main combat aircraft is the JAS-39 Gripen. An informal survey by the Philippine News Agency just a couple of months ago showed that most PAF pilots preferred to have the Gripen to be the country’s next fighter aircraft.1 We’ve already seen how the F-16C could fare against the SU-30MKK Flanker in my blog, “The F-16C Block 50/52+ Viper versus the SU-30MKK/MK2 Flanker-G“, let us now take a look at how the JAS-39 could fare against the same adversary.
The JAS-39 is made by the Swedish company “Saab” and first entered service with the Swedish Air Force in 1997. It is described as a lightweight Multi Role Fighter (MRF) and 250 aircrafts have been built so far in service with six countries around the world.
The JAS-39C is the latest mass produced version of the aircraft introduced into service in 2003 with improvements like better avionics, in-flight refueling capability and an improved oxygen system for long-duration flights. The aircraft’s official name is “Gripen” which is the Swedish word for “Griffin“,2 a mythical creature with the body of a lion and the head and wings of an Eagle.
The SU-30 is an improved version of the SU-27 Flanker made by the Russian Federation’s “Sukhoi Company” and entered service with the Russian Air Force in 1996. It is described as a heavy, long-range, all-weather strike fighter and around 400+ aircrafts have been built so far in service with nine countries around the world.
The SU-30MKK is the special export version to China of the SU-30 which went into the Chinese Air Force service in 2000. China ordered 76 aircraft which were delivered between 2000-2003, and in case of any war, it will be China’s main frontline aircraft as it is its most capable combat aircraft right now.
The SU-30MK2 is the maritime version of the SU-30MKK intended for use by China on its carrier fleet if ever they do get to finally field them. It differs from the SU-30MKK mainly because it uses Chinese-made avionics. China has 24 of these, first delivered in 2004. The official NATO code name for the SU-30MKK is the “Flanker-G”.3
For the “Maneuverability” and “Payload and Range” sections, the following considerations were made:
– Weights with 100% internal fuel was used to try to simulate the aircrafts going into combat with full internal fuel after dropping their External Fuel Tanks.
– The weights of the armaments were not included as the RATIOS and DIFFERENCES BETWEEN BOTH AIRCRAFTS will remain the same if they will be armed with the same type and same number of armaments.
– Data for each aircraft was derived from various websites.4 5
For both aircraft’s maneuvering capability, I am looking at their LIMIT LOAD FACTOR*, WING LOADING* and POWER TO WEIGHT RATIO.* I would’ve wanted to take a look at more aspects like Stall Speed, Maximum Alpha, etc., but those data are hard to come by for both aircraft.
Hence, these should suffice for now. Remember that a lower Wing Loading means the aircraft can turn tighter and vice-versa, and a higher Thrust-to-Weight Ratio means the aircraft can go faster going straight up or straight down and vice-versa.
POSITIVE LIMIT LOAD FACTOR: Even for both aircraft.
WING LOADING: Favors the Gripen C with its decisive 23% lower wing loading.
– THRUST TO WEIGHT RATIO: Almost even for both aircrafts, with a minute advantage for the Flanker-G.
+++ Typical of its delta-wing design, the Gripen has a relatively large wing compared to its size and weight, and this translates to excellent turning ability especially in the horizontal plane. With its advantage in wing loading and the even numbers for the TTWR, a clear advantage for the Gripen C in terms of maneuverability.
INTFF: Favors the Flanker-G by a huge 68%, indicating it can travel 68% farther for the same engine fuel efficiency.
PAYLOAD: Also favors the Flanker-G as it can carry a commanding 57% (2,890 kg) more load than the Gripen C.
+++ Here the Flanker-G’s ability as an OFFENSIVE aircraft shines as it shows it can carry more load and carry it much farther than the Gripen C, making it an ideal strike aircraft to complement its air superiority role.
‘Air Combat-related Avionics and Weapons’
Here I am comparing the capability of both aircrafts in terms of Within Visual Range (WVR) and Beyond Visual Range (BVR) air combat thru their Avionics and Weapons available to them. Just some notes, though:
– Radar Cross Section (RCS) data are for “clean” aircrafts, with no armaments or fuel tanks
– Tracking range is assumed to be 85% of the Detection Range
– Closing velocity of 3,000 kph (equally divided to each aircraft) used to compute for First Look, First Shot advantage
– Missile impact is based on the top speed of its main BVR missiles
– Radar Detection Ranges and RCS data were taken from these websites:6 7 8 9
WVR COMBAT: Pretty even as both aircrafts have the avionics and weapons to be competitive in WVR combat
BVR COMBAT: Favors the Gripen C as it can track the Flanker-G 30 km sooner than the Flanker-G can track the Gripen C, and allowing also for maximum BVR missile range it will give the Gripen C a First Look, First Shot advantage of 18 seconds over the Flanker. The Flanker-G though has the advantage of an IRST sensor which is useful in certain tactical situations.
+++ A very impressive result for the Gripen C, by virtue of its extremely low RCS and decent radar. The 9,900% difference in RCS is so large that the Flanker-G’s powerful radar is not able to make up for it.
+++The Flanker-G’s IRST is useful in a limited number of situations as it will enable the Flanker-G to sneak up on its opponents without using its radar (whose emissions can be detected) and fire the first shot if necessary. However it does have limitations, it has a much shorter range than the Flanker-G’s radar at only around 35 km for head on targets,10 which can be further reduced under certain atmospheric conditions.
While the good detection range of Gripen C’s PS-05A radar was a big factor in its BVR dominance over the Flanker-G, the even bigger factor is its stealth characteristics. While the Gripen per se was NOT designed as a Stealth aircraft, it was designed around the time when the first operational Stealth aircraft in the F-117 Nighthawk was publicly introduced (in 1988),11 so the designers incorporated stealth designs into its basic structure without compromising performance, hence the Gripen ended up with such a low RCS of only 0.1m^2.
The Gripen is already a small, compact fighter with low RCS, but computer modelling was used to optimize areas such as the curves of the aircraft and the engine intakes along with their inlet tubes to deflect radar waves. Special Radar Absorbing Materials were also used in key areas enabling the Gripen to lower its RCS even further and giving it excellent advantage against radar.
On the other hand, the F-16 first entered service almost two decades earlier than the Gripen at a time when stealth technology was just at its infancy, hence no stealth aspect was incorporated into it initially. They did make improvements on the aircraft in the latter versions to reduce its RCS from 5 m^2 to 1.2 m^2,12 but obviously improvements can only go so far without possibly compromising the structural integrity of the aircraft, hence it cannot match the stealth characteristics of the Gripen.
In terms of cost, the South African Air Force (SAAF) was able to get the Gripen for USD 77 million per aircraft in 1999,13 but the more recent purchase by Thailand of the same Gripen C costs them between USD 91-96.5 million.14 The difference probably came from the fact that the Thailand deal included more weapons and a comprehensive logistical support while the SAAF deal reportedly did not involve any support package, with the assumption that money for logistical support would come in later as the aircraft was operating.
Note that half of SAAF’s Gripens are currently reportedly grounded as the expected money for support did not materialize. Any deal with the PhAF will likely end up closer to the prices of the Thailand deal than the prices of the SAAF deal. This would make it just about even compared to the USD 77-133 million price of the F-16C Block 50/52+.
While the F-16C Block 50/52+ could only sort of break even with the SU-30MKK in terms of overall air combat performance, the Gripen C clearly trounces the Flanker-G in BVR and WVR avenues of air combat, at least theoretically. However, if China does go out and buy the more formidable SU-35 Flanker-E, then that will shift the advantage back into China’s favor as the Flanker-E is a very capable aircraft that only an F-22 or F-35 will be able to match up with it one on one. This is because the Flanker-E’s Irbis-E radar has a fantastic 454 km detection range for a 5 m^2 RCS target, and also has a much lower RCS itself compared to the SU-30MKK.15
I feel a bit sorry for the Gripen, I feel it should’ve been more commercially successful and adopted by more countries than it is now instead of losing out in a couple of international fighter procurement contract competitions. The problem with the Gripen is that it doesn’t have the political clout of the American fighters, or the lower prices of the Russian aircrafts. And it doesn’t have the payload/radar range of the other European fighters like the Typhoon or the Rafale.
But I think it is ideal for a country like ours because first, we don’t really need an aircraft with a lot of range or payload as we will be using it mainly for defensive purposes. Second, its single engine means simpler logistical support, and third as we have seen above it is very capable even against the best of China’s CURRENT fighter aircrafts.
And it is also quite popular with the PAF pilots. IMHO, the PAF should forget about the F-16C for now, and focus on getting the Gripen C (the “Flanker-G Killer“, LOL) as the MINIMUM main combat aircraft for the Philippines.
LIMIT LOAD FACTOR is the maximum amount of stress load on its structure an aircraft is rated for, and is expressed in number of “G”. The “stress load” refers to the ratio of the Lift of an aircraft to its weight.
WING LOADING is the amount of weight the wing supports during flight, and is expressed in weight per area, or in the metric system, kg/m^2. This is computed by: (Wing Area divided by Weight).
THRUST TO WEIGHT RATIO means how much power the aircraft has compared to its weight, and is expressed by a simple number. This is computed by: (The maximum thrust of the aircraft’s engine divided by weight).
INTERNAL FUEL FRACTION is the weight of the internal fuel the aircraft compared to its maximum take-off weight, and is expressed by a simple number. Formula used is: (Maximum internal fuel capacity divided by maximum take off weight).
(1) November 14, 2013: Originally posted.
(2) March 26, 2014: Updated footnotes to latest standard; Added G-limit as criteria for maneuverability; Added details like Tracking Range, Missile Impact, First Look-First Shot Advantage, etc. to BVR combat criteria.
Pilots eye Gripen fighter jet,
Saab JAS-39 Gripen,
Fact file: Saab JAS39 C/D Gripen,
Situation Awareness (Gripen’s PS-05A Radar Detection Range),
Gripen Radar Cross Section,
Which Fighter Plane is the No:1 in the Indian Subcontinent in the BVR(Beyond Visual Range) arena?,
OLS-35 IRST option for Su-30 family,
Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk,
Radar Cross Section (RCS),
SAAF has no Gripen support contract,
Air Force eyes six more Gripen jets,