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Saab announced just before last week's Defense & Security Equipment International show in London that it was establishing a new, bigger office in the U.K. — including a design team for a carrier-based version of the Gripen NG fighter. So far, says new Saab U.K. Chairman Rustan Nicander, this does not represent a move to unseat the F-35C Joint Strike Fighter as the selected aircraft for the Royal Navy's new carriers. Even if the F-35C runs into trouble, Sea Typhoon is probably next in line. However, the U.K. has experience with sea-based aircraft through the Sea Harrier force, and Saab is looking to hire people with that knowledge. So far, the main targets for the Sea Gripen are Brazil — which, as well as running a land-based fighter competition, is just completing a major upgrade on the carrier Sao Paulo, originally the French Foch — and India. Since Typhoon is not in play in Brazil, Saab sees U.K. involvement in Sea Gripen as a way to add more of Britain's industrial leverage to its Gripen campaign in Brazil — on top of the substantial U.K. content already involved in the fighter's Selex Galileo radar. There's a tendency, based on U.S. experience, to dismiss the adaptation of land-based aircraft to carrier operations: When the U.S. Navy has tried it, the result has almost invariably been a completely new aircraft. But because the Gripen was designed for 800-meter Swedish road bases, Saab notes, the jet already meets one mandatory carrier requirement (a low approach speed) and the structure is designed for limited-flare landings. The Gripen's wingspan is less than the wings-folded span of the Super Hornet or F-35. Saab's new U.K. office will also pursue other business. The company already has substantial contracts with the U.K. Defense Ministry (such as counter-IED technology and training) and believes that tight budgets will favor its commercial-off-the-shelf technology and turnkey services. One example — which may seem a long shot today, although Libya may have changed things — is a joint study with Selex Galileo and Ultra of a maritime surveillance aircraft based on the Saab 2000 regional aircraft. Saab has already produced an airborne early warning version of the 2000 and marketed a maritime reconnaissance version to India, while the U.K. Defense Ministry may revisit its decision to terminate the entire U.K. maritime ISR capability. Selex would provide the radar and ESM systems, with acoustics from Ultra, and Saab is talking about commercial turnkey support.
ar99, saab, gripen, tacair
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