On first, this article is focussed on western aircraft & market, considering that :
West is currently the worldwide reference in term of aerospace systems
Western markets (incl. pro-west nations) is the wider market
Western aircraft usually participate to "hard" bids, facing to aggressive contenders (which is less the case for "non-west-oriented" nations)
Secondly, I will not speak here about aircraft characteristics, considering that :
This article is not, and would never be, an evaluation but a "geo-strategy"
Evaluation is subjective, depending of each nation's aims & priorities (which are usually specified and detailed in the deal)
Aircraft characteristics might change through the different upgrades (and sometimes some equipment)
Based on that, what is the question that this article tries to answer :
Is the Gripen simply a low-cost aircraft, or is it an adapted answer to a market demand ?
On first, we must admit that Gripen is :
A robust aircraft
With a single engine
And an average range of action
With proven Multi-Role capabilities
And continuous / on-demand developments
A 'low-cost' solution on purchase
With potential offset
And a reduced life-time cost
However, it is also :
A "less-capable" aircaft (compared to current other western aircraft)
With a short range of action
A reduced weapon capacity (in term of tons)
Without carrier-based capability
Designed by 3rd-rank nation (Sweden) which has not all the strengh to support additional development alone
A "less-capable" low-cost aircraft only ?
If we compare to other western aircraft, Gripen is mainly "less-capable", but a product might not be compared to others, but to the market needs.
Does it match with a market ?
There is lot of factors that influence the definition of a requirement and the selection of its winner.
If we avoid both corruption, 'political influences' and economical dependency, we get 4 main factors :
Corruption & political influence
Strategical preference & international relationship
International position & aims (either regional and over-sea)
Home-based aerospace industry
Size of the country
Gross Domestic Product
Based on that criterias, we can classify nations through 4 main categories :
The "1st Rank" nations, that "lead" the world
The other "Main Nations" that are enough strong and play an international role
An "Economical Ring" and a "Regional Leaders Ring" which contains nations with a high GDP or that lead a region
"Small Nations" (in term of international influence)
Each of these 4 categories is linked to a kind of usual market : (see the graph)
Note : Some nations might change of category (i.e: Switzerland, which might not be considered as a 'high-GDP' nation anymore), or be accross 2 categories due to some specifics aspects.
Now, if we compare these markets to current aircraft offers, we can see that, mainly, Gripen is tipically designed for "small nations" market : (table below)
On this market, there are 3 contenders only :
The Gripen (Sweden)
The F-16 (US)
Reminder : focussed on western aircraft only. Refer to initial hypotheses for more information about this "filter".
As I said, I will not compare aircraft performance. However, both Gripen and F-16 have order-winners (depending of each Customer nations) :
Offsets & Technologies Transfers
Saab proposes flexible and customized offsets & technologies transfers in its Gripen offers. This might interrest some nations, but offset also means counter-value in acquisition cost.
On its side, as F-16 is now considered as 'outdated' by US. Due to that, bids can contains offset & non-critical technologies transfers.
Gripen developments are mainly supported by customers, in link with their own wishes. That means that customers have to finance partially or totally these developments.
Gripen might suffer of this uncapability to anticipate the market requirements. However, it is also a strong opportunity for the customer to be included in the aircraft workshare.
In other hand, Lockheed Martin is able to conduct new developments on its own funds in line with the market trends in order to keep the F-16 competitive and anticipate potential bids.
These anticipated developments allow Lockheed Martin to continue to propose 'off-the-shelf' solutions and let more flexibility concerning the management of the return on investment.
This is certainly the greatest order-winner of the Gripen :
Even F-16 can count on the support of US international influence (either politically and economically), Gripen is from a western neutral nation :
Sweden is a European Union member, but not a NATO's (note: NATO partner only).
In this context, Gripen offers lot of advantages that can be resumed in 2 things :
An alternative [*] to a clear affiliation to a 1st-rank nation (US, Russia, China) or the EU
An opportunity for nations of eastern Europe to develop their relations with the Union
[*] Is considered as an alternative while, in fact, instead of Rafale case, Gripen currently use several US components ; however, Gripen offsets are opportunity to saab to try to end this dependency
Gripen appears to "small nations" as a great opportunity :
A robust & reliable 'combat proven' Multi-Role aircraft
Whose characteristics match with the needs
For an affordable cost compare to the performances
With the possibility of flexible & customized offsets and/or co-operation
And an alternative for a non-affiliation to a 1st-rank nation
... And several nations already made that choice (instead of its 2 other european contenders).
Several others nations (Denmark, Croatia...) expressed their strong interest for it.
Saab clearely identified and understood its strengths and weaknesses :
To highlight to Customers their win-win opportunities and make them order-winners
To promote the offsets to support Gripen developments
And select new Customers-based suppliers in order to reduce its dependency to US and reinforce its 'alternative' position
And extend partnership to improve the synergy and prepare the Gripen future
The current feedback around the Gripen is giving right to Saab's strategy
However, this challenge is not out of risks :
Create a complex and inefficient partnership
Deploy several co-operations that might establish the Gripen out of its neutral position
Good luck, Gripen !