In October 2018, Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana revealed in an interview by the Philippine News Agency (PNA) that the JAS-39 Gripen will likely be selected for the Philippine Air Force (PAF) multi role combat aircraft program.1
Saab has been actively promoting their Gripen aircraft in the Philippines for quite some time now, culminating in them bringing in a full sized model of their JAS-39C Gripen aircraft during the Asian Defence and Security Show (ADAS) in September 2018 in Manila.2
Now I have done a number of blogs about the Gripen over the years since 2013, so I had some reservations about doing another one again. However, I thought that I needed to update those blogs, and also there were still some things that could be discussed about the aircraft.
‘The JAS-39 Gripen’
The JAS-39 Gripen a light, multi role combat aircraft made by the Swedish Aerospace company the Saab AB. It first flew in 1988, and was adopted by the Swedish Air Force in 1995. The improved “C” version of the Gripen which Saab is offering to us first entered service with Sweden in 2002.3
A total of six (6) countries have so far used the Gripen with their air forces, namely Brazil, the Czech Republic, Hungary, South Africa, Sweden and Thailand. Approximately 256 aircraft are either currently in service or on order.4
There are two main types of Gripen models, a single seat and a twin seat model. Both are identical except for the number of seats and that the twin seat model is heavier in terms of empty weight by several hundred kilograms. The C version is a single seat version while the D is a twin seat version.
The JAS-39C/D is actually not the latest model in the Gripen family, there is the JAS-39E/F Gripen which is bigger, heavier, with a more powerful engine, and more capable, but Saab did not offer this to us probably because it isn’t scheduled to first enter service with the Swedish Air Force until 2023.5 And even then, the first few years of production will likely prioritize deliveries to the air forces with larger orders like Sweden and Brazil.
The American company Lockheed Martin is offering their F-16V Viper Block 70 to the Philippines, they even bought a large scale model of it with PAF markings during the ADAS 2018 event, so I will be comparing the JAS-39C to that, along with our own FA-50PH Fighting Eagle aircraft. 6 7 8 9 10
WEIGHTS: In terms of the weights, the JAS-39C/D and FA-50PH are very similar aircraft, with their Empty Weights (EW) and Maximum Take Off Weights (MTOW). Both aircraft are significantly lighter than the F-16V, with the JAS-39C/D being around 23-26% lighter in terms of EW and 36% lighter in terms of MTOW than the F-16V.
PAYLOAD: In terms of Payload with full internal fuel, again the JAS-39C/D and FA-50PH are very close to each other, with the JAS-39C/D being able to carry a bit more. Compared to the F-16V though, the JAS-39C/D can carry a significant 39-43% less Payload.
Things get more interesting when it comes the estimated ranges that it merits its own section. In terms of the Internal Fuel Fraction (IFF), the JAS-39C/D turns out to have 7% less than that of the FA-50PH, meaning that it carries less fuel compared to its Maximum Take Off Weight (MTOW), likely indicating less range when on full internal fuel especially since both aircraft use basically the same engine.
The RM12 engine of the JAS-39C/D is a license built version by the Swedish company Volvo of the F404 engine used on the FA-50PH with some improvements to lessen inspections or replacements and thus increase reliability.11 Hence they have the same Specific Fuel Consumption (SFC) at Military Thrust (the maximum power setting of the engine without the using its afterburner).
The advantage of the JAS-39C/D though over the FA-50PH is that it can do Air to Air Refueling (AAR), meaning it can extend its range while still flying whereas the FA-50PH cannot since it doesn’t have that capability as of now.
The JAS-39C/D can also carry bigger External Fuel Tanks (EFT) which at 1,136 L (or 916 kg) is around twice as large in terms of capacity than the FA-50PH’s 570 L (or 460 kg) tanks.
’Slovak Republic Study’14
The above data coincides with some of the findings of a more comprehensive study comparing the F-16V and the JAS-39C made by the Slovak Republic released earlier this year. Among their findings were that the JAS-39C had much less Range and Endurance compared to the F-16V.
As can be seen in the above data, compared to the F-16V, the JAS-39C has 24% less Maximum Range with External Fuel Tanks, 47% less Combat Radius and 89% less Endurance at a distance of 740 km from base in the Air to Air Configuration.
AVIONICS AND WEAPONS: The JAS-39C/D is better in terms of Aviation Electronics (Avionics) and weapons compared to the FA-50PH because it has a Helmet Mounted Sight (HMS) and High Off Boresight Missiles (HOBM), enabling it to launch its missiles at higher offset angles.
But options are available to integrate these also into the FA-50PH like the AIM-132 Advanced Short Range Air to Air Missile (ASRAAM)15 and Python 516 missiles, if we are willing to spend for it. The F-16V has similar weapons and avionics making it equal with the JAS-39C/D.
WING LOADING (WL): The JAS-39C/D only has slightly lower 2-5% WL than the FA-50PH, but has a 13% higher G-Limit. Compared to the F-16V, it has the same G-Limit but its WL is significantly lower at 25-27%. This enables the JAS-39C/D to make turns with tighter radiuses compared to both aircraft.
THRUST TO WEIGHT RATIO (TTWR): Here the JAS-39C/D is deficient compared to the FA-50PH and F-16V, indicating that it won’t be able to maintain altitude in a turn as long or accelerate as fast as either aircraft. But the difference isn’t that big, only around 1-8%.
INTERNAL GUN: The internal gun of the JAS-39C has a much slower rate of fire, only half that of the FA-50PH and a quarter that of the F-16V. But it does make up for it by having a longer range and hits its target harder since it is of a bigger caliber. The JAS-39D though lacks an internal gun.
The JAS-39C/D has longer ranged BVR Air to Air Missiles (BVRAAM), unlike the FA-50PH which has no such qualified missiles as of now, although there are options to integrate those also with the FA-50PH, like the Derby missile.17 The JAS-39C/D’s PS-05/A Mk4 Radar is also more powerful than the ELM-2032 radar of the FA-50PH, allowing a much longer detection range.
The range of the Gripen’s PS-05/A Mk4 against a particular Radar Cross Section (RCS) has not been published, but Saab describes it as being able to detect a same sized aircraft 150% further compared to the previous version.18 Data for the older version PS-05/A radar puts its detection range as up to 102 km for a fighter sized target with an RCS of 5 m^2.19
From there we can calculate that the PS-05/A Mk4 could have a detection range of up to 153 km, which is almost three times the estimated detection range of 55 km for the same sized target of the ELM-2032.20
’The Meteor Advantage’
In BVR combat, the big advantage of the JAS-39C/D over the F-16V (at least in theory) is its Meteor missile which is the first ramjet powered air to air missile to enter military service, and the Gripen is the first aircraft to integrate it.
The Meteor is special because its ramjet engines allow it to be throttled while in flight, allowing greater range and greater maneuverability. Official sources puts its range at more than 100 km21, but some sources puts it as far as 320 km.22
What we do know is that for missiles of similar size, weight and thrust of the Meteor like the F-16V’s AIM-120D Advanced Air to Air Missile (AMRAAM), a ramjet engine should have a longer range. The range of the AIM-120D is classified, but some sources puts it as at least 160 km,23 hence the Meteor’s range is expected to be better than that.
’New BVR Missile Standard’24
Ramjet powered missiles could become the new standard for BVR missiles since a number of countries like India and Russia are also developing similar missiles. China is another country developing such missiles, they have at least two in development with similar ranges as the Meteor, the PL-12D and the PL-15.
The US is reportedly now developing its own ramjet BVR missile, but it may take them awhile to field these into service. There doesn’t seem to be any immediate plans by the Americans to integrate the Meteor into the F-16 platform, thus it will have to rely on the AMRAAM for its BVR missiles in the near future.
’Radar Disadvantages’ 25
The JAS-39C/D’s radar seems to have a shorter range than the AN/APG-83 radar of the F-16V though. One source says that the AN/APG-83 can detect a 5 m^2 target at 195 km26 which is 22% better than that of the PS-05/A Mk4.
The PS-05/A radar also uses an older Mechanically Steered Array (MSA) Antenna compared to the newer Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) antenna used on the AN/APG-83 radar. AESA has some significant advantages over MSA like first, it is more reliable because it has no moving parts and thus require less maintenance.
It also uses multiple radar modes at the same time instead of switching between them, meaning it can track air, sea or ground targets at the same time. It is more resistant to jamming since it uses a wider band of frequencies.
Most importantly, the signals of an AESA radar have what’s called as a Low Probability of Interception (LPI), meaning even if an enemy aircraft has Radar Warning Receivers (RWR), it still won’t necessarily know that an AESA radar has already spotted and tracked them since it won’t be able to detect its radar signals easily.
This is a big advantage as the AESA equipped aircraft could remain undetected and could lock on and launch its missiles without the enemy aircraft knowing about. Because of this characteristic, an AESA radar can also be called a “stealthy” radar.
The JAS-39C/D’s radar has a shorter range than its Meteor missile when going up against fighter sized aircraft, hence it won’t be able to take full advantage of the Meteor’s long range.
To correct this, the JAS-39C/D will need support from Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEWC) aircraft with bigger, more powerful and longer ranged radars, preferably with AESA antennas. The AEW can then share targeting data to the JAS-39C/D, or even direct the Meteor missiles themselves as the Meteor allows for that.
In this day and age where Electronics play a big part in aerial combat, the need for a defensive Electronic Warfare Suite (EWS) is very important as it serves as sort of an “Electronic Armor” around the aircraft.
The JAS-39C/D uses an integrated EWS made by Saab called the EWS-3927 which has a bit more features than the Spectrolite SPS-6528 used on the FA-50PH since it allows the use of a Towed Aerial Decoy. The F-16V uses the Electronic Warfare Management System (EWMS) AN/ALQ-21329 as its EWS, and it has about the same features as the EWS-39.
I think the most important thing about the EWS though is that all of its features need to be used so it’s capability will be maximized, not like the case of the SPS-65 for example where it also has the ability to handle an Internal Jammer and a Missile Warning System (MWS), but these does not seem to have been activated on our FA-50PH as far as I know.
The same case with the EWS-39 where it has the ability to integrate a Laser Warning System (LWS) and an MWS, but those were not included in the JAS-39C/D that Hungary got.30
Activating all the features will increase the cost of the aircraft, but I think it is worth it to optimize its survivability, especially for an older model like the JAS-39C/D. If cost concerns will prevent us from getting them sooner, then we should try to get all of them later.
Just to summarize the above items thus far:
– The JAS-39C/D has around the same Payload on full internal fuel as the FA-50PH, but significantly less than that of the F-16V.
– It also seems to have less range than the FA-50PH using internal fuel only and at maximum payload, but it does have AAR and carry larger EFTs.
– It has significantly less range using the same parameters compared to the F-16V.
– The JAS-39C/D’s radar is theoretically much better than that of the FA-50PH, but it doesn’t have as much range and lacks some qualities like stealth of the F-16V’s AESA radar.
– It arguably has the best BVRAAM in the world right now in the Meteor which could be the herald of the next generation of such types of missiles, but will need the support of an AEWC aircraft to take full advantage of its range.
– Its EWS has one additional feature compared to the one used on the FA-50PH, but all of its features needs to be activated and used to take full advantage of its capabilities.
At this point I have decided to cut this short and just continue it in another blog since it is already getting too long for comfort. Although the JAS-39C/D has its share of deficiencies, it does have another trick up its sleeve which we shall see in the second part.
DND Likely to Acquire Swedish-made Fighter Jets,
ADAS 2018 Observations and Highlights,
Further Facts on JAS 39 Gripen,
Flight Global’s World Air Forces 2018,
- Further Facts on JAS 39 … ↩
Gripen C in Brief,
F-16 Fighting Falcon Block 70,
Program Dossier: F-16 Fighting Falcon,
Program Dossier: JAS-39 Gripen,
Gripen Surpasses 100,000 Flight Hours – Volvo Aero’s Engine Safest in the World,
General Electric Aviation F110, F404 and F414 Engines,
F-14’s Jet Engines,
The Proposal for the Acquisition of New Tactical Fighter Aircraft (Slovak Republic),
MBDA To Show New Munitions in Singapore,
Python 5 and New Weapons Developed by Korea for FA-50,
FA-50PH Scale Model armed with Derby Missiles at the Asian Defence and Security (ADAS) 2016 Trade Show,
Primed for Supremacy: PS-05/A Mk4 Fighter Radar,
Smarter (and Simpler) Radar in Harpoon,
- Smarter (and Simpler) Radar … ↩
Meteor Beyond Visual Range Air-to-Air Missile,
The Pentagon Is Working on a New Air-to-Air Missile,
- The Pentagon Is Working on … ↩
Understanding AESA: A Game-Changer in RADAR Technology,
Stealth Threats and Anti-Stealth Techniques by Wg Cdr Konstantinos C. Zikidis,
- Jane’s Radar and Electronic Warfare Systems 2001-2002 – Electronic Warfare Suite (EWS) 39 ↩
Spectrolite SPS-65V-5 Integrated Airborne Self Protection System,
- Jane’s Radar and Electronic Warfare Systems 2001-2002 – Electronic Warfare Management System (EWMS) AN/ALQ-213 ↩
JAS 39 Gripen in Air Operations,