2007 Budget Proposal Cuts Swedish Gripen Force, Looks to Buy Strategic Lift
On April 25, 2006, the Swedish Armed Forces submitted their 2007 budget proposal [note: page in Swedish]. The Armed Forces’ plans include continued commitment in the Balkans and Afghanistan, and they anticipate that from 2008, Sweden “will have the capability to contribute to two major and three minor crisis management operations simultaneously.” The English release adds that “units in the Navy and the Air Force should be given a greater role in international operations.”
There might be fewer of them, though. General Lieutenant Mats Nilsson was frank: “We need to have a proper number to be able to operate the [JAS-39 Gripen fighter] in the long-term from the type of organization which parliament and the government have determined.”
What does that mean, specifically? How could it affect a number of international fighter competitions? And where does “strategic air movement” fit into the picture?
About 204 JAS-39 aircraft, including 28 two seaters, were ordered in three production batches: 30 in Batch 1(JAS-39A), 110 in Batch 2 (96 JAS-39A, 14 JAS-39B) and 64 Batch 3 (50 JAS-39C, 14 JAS-39D) aircraft. Some of these aircraft have gone to the Czech Republic (14) and Hungary (14) instead of the Flygvapnet, and there are 28 more aircraft on order for South Africa.
Gen. Lt. Nilsson translation: we only have a budget that can operate 100 or so aircraft. The English release notes that “steps will be taken in order to eventually reduce the fighter fleet to 100 JAS Gripen, Versions C and D, suitable for international operations…”
The desire for an all JAS-39 C/D fleet will require some upgrades. This will be welcome news of a sort at Saab, which has experienced layoffs due to fewer domestic orders and weaker than expected foreign sales. Nevertheless, as The Local notes in an April 26, 2006 article, this still leaves about 65-70 planes too many. If these planes cannot be sold, the Armed Forces proposal apparently suggests that they should be scrapped despite their young age and their procurement cost.
While Saab’s workers will not be pleased to hear it, the ability to offer cheaper second-hand aircraft rather than new-build machines may improve the Gripen’s chances in a number of international competitions. At the moment, the JAS-39 Gripen is a listed contender, with varying odds of success, for the air forces of Brazil (program delayed), Bulgaria (undertaking a slow modernization to NATO compliance), India, Romania (unlikely, looks to be Israeli F-16s), and Slovakia; Saab/BAE is also apparently courting Norway and Denmark in hoes that they’ll abandon the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program and choose the JAS-39 Gripen instead.
This item from the Armed Forces’ English release was also intreresting:
“The Armed Forces plans also propose a new operational capability through the procurement of aircraft for strategic air movement. This is an important requirement to meet the increased demand not only for volume and distance, but also for the possible evacuation of personnel or humanitarian aid efforts.”
Sweden currently owns 8 Hercules Tp84 (C-130E/H) aircraft based at F7 Satenas, and is a non-NATO member of the NATO SALIS consortium with access to leased Russian AN-124s. “Strategic Air Movement” is a category that is usually restricted to aircraft like the Russian AN-124 Ruslan (est. $80-120 million) and IL-76 Candid ($50 million), as well as the American C-17 Globemaster III ($200 million). Airbus Military’s A400M ($100-120 million) isn’t really a strategic lift aircraft, but air-air refueling capability may get it or Lockheed’s smaller C-130J ($65 million) characterized as such if Sweden’s military wants them. Civilian cargo variants like the 747-400s are also possible if vehicle transport isn’t a priority, and can be bought second-hand.
Given that Sweden’s political model is highly favorable for a Crown Corporation ‘cost recovery’ operating model that leases its assets out part of the time to allies or commercial services, it will be interesting to see where Sweden’s armed forces and government go with this expressed need.
UPDATE: Sweden ended up joining NATO’s C-17 pool, in order to take care of its strategic lift requirements.