Gareth Jennings, Linköping
IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly
Saab is touting its Gripen combat aircraft to Austria as a possible replacement for that country’s early model Eurofighter Typhoons, a senior company official disclosed on 27 April.
Speaking at the Linköping production facility in Sweden, the head of Saab’s Aeronautics division, Ulf Nilsson, said that, while there is currently no active competition in Austria, he anticipates a requirement to replace the air force’s 15 Tranche 1 Typhoons in the next few years.
“Any Austrian opportunity would not be for another three to five years, but we would see the potential for either a [Gripen] C/D or a [Gripen] E/F sale, depending on timelines,” he said, noting that the earliest gap on the E/F production line to accommodate orders beyond Sweden and Brazil will be 2022.
Austria became the launch export customer for the Typhoon when it received its first aircraft in July 2007. The aircraft are used exclusively in the air-policing role (they are armed only with the Mauser BK27 27 mm cannon and two IRIS-T short-range air-to-air missiles), and are operated in conjunction with Saab 105OE jets, Pilatus PC-7 turboprops, and Bell 206 JetRanger helicopters as part of a tiered air-defence umbrella.
This tiered-defensive system, which ties in with networked anti-aircraft artillery and surface-to-air missile batteries, sees the Typhoons tasked with intercepting high and/or fast threats, with aircraft being held at Zeltweg Airbase on Quick Reaction Alert (QRA).
In October 2013, work to upgrade the fleet to the highest capability standard for Tranche 1 aircraft was completed. The two-year upgrade process saw the fleet fitted with the Service Release Proposal 4.3 standard software and hardware, which involved the fitting of enhanced software, new radio systems, GPS, and an identification friend-or-foe transponder.