jeudi 24 janvier 2013

Choice of a new fighter aircraft of the Swiss Air Force: Description and comparison

Swiss Air Force logo.

Jan. 24, 2013

Is the avalanche (Switzerland is an alpine country after all) of critical reviews of the Gripen and Dassault aircrafts justified?

Here is a comparative description of the two aircrafts remaining in the "race", although officially, according to the Minister of Defense, "the die have been rolled", the matter is still being discussed at Federal Governement level. And it is likely that the Swiss people (through direct democracy) will have the final vote as to which aircraft should be purchased or not.

Dassault Rafale

Rafale jet fighter

The Dassault Rafale is a French military fourth generation omnirole plane, developed and produced by French manufacturer Dassault Aviation. 126 aircrafts have recently been ordered by India.

First commissioned on 18 May 2001, commissioning of the fourth generation in 2006.
Wingspan: 11 m
Length: 15 m
Engine: two-reactor Snecma M88-2
Manufacturer: Dassault Aviation

Weapons for the Rafale

Saab JAS 39 Gripen

Saab Gripen C/D jet fighter

The JAS 39 Gripen ("Griffon") is a military fourth generation multirole aircraft developed by Sweden in the 1980s.

Commissioned in 1996 by the Swedish Air Force, it has so far been exported to Hungary, Czech Republic, South Africa and Thailand with over 240 total aircrafts ordered. The model Gripen E / F pre-ordered by Switzerland does not yet exist.
Wingspan: 8.41 m
Length: 14 m
Engine type: single General Electric F404 reactor
Manufacturer: Saab

Weapons for the Gripen

The list of specifications issued by the Swiss government to builders breaks down to the following key points:

- Maximum budget of CHF 3.126 billion.

- Costs per flight hour (operational costs of the aircraft) up to CHF 10,000.-/hour.

- Speed ​​limit threshold at Mach 1.5 (1800km/hour).

- Multi-role aircraft, weapons and fourth generation onboard technology (laser guidance pod, HUD with flight weapons information, latest generation state-of-the-art, radar, etc.).

- Assembly in Switzerland and had complete control over operation and maintenance.

- Payment by installments (upon delivery).

In Emmen (AB), whilst presenting the 2012 Swiss weapons program, Armasuisse (Swiss arsenals management facilities) in cooperation with the Swiss Military Department and the aircraft builders, performed validation tests of both airplanes for over several days and sessions, including two for the Gripen only.

The Rafale during flight tests, escorted by two FA-18 Swiss Air Force

Here are the test results and assessment of the specifications for both planes:

The Gripen has already largely exceeded the planned budget: the invoice will be CHF 3.346 billion. More importantly, the operating costs of the machine will be significantly higher than CHF 10,000.- per flight hour, as indicated by the manufacturer, Saab, when the aircraft was first presented. According to the Swiss government's call for tender, the operating costs of 22 new units amount to 102 million Swiss francs per year.

Taking into account staff costs (24 million francs), maintenance (51 million), and fuel (21 million) as described, and 180 hours of annual flight by aircraft, the hourly operating cost for the "Gripen E" will exceed 24,000.- francs.

During the presentation of the Gripen, Saab produced a maintenance plan that only takes fuel costs into account, while Dassault takes all costs into account (maintenance, spare parts, personnel, fuel). So for a 4th generation fighter, the Rafale's average operating costs, about CHF 20,000.-/hour.

 Gripen during flight tests, escorted by a FA-18 Swiss Air Force

Regarding the speed limit imposed in the specifications requirements by the Swiss government (Mach-1, 5 or 1800km/h), the Gripen painfully reached Mach-1,34 (the pilot must have been "standing" on the throttle), while the Rafale effortlessly reached Mach-2.

Unlike the conditions laid down in the tender submitted in 2007/2008 to various manufacturers, the new Gripen might finally not even be assembled in Switzerland. In its statement, the Swiss government (Federal Council) noted that, upon evaluation, the idea of an assembly in Switzerland was deemed economically not defendable, and was discarded.

Instead, a team of Ruag and Swiss Air Force would be sent to Sweden to participate in the mounting of the aircrafts and acquire the necessary know-how.

In addition to that amount, you have to add 220 million francs for a five-year rental of a fleet of 11 'Gripen C/D", as the Gripen E/F model is still in its design stage. With everything included, the final bill might well reach CHF 3.346 billion.

Saab can offer a first delivery of three copies of the old improved Gripen model, as well as the delivery of the new model (yet to be built) by 2018 at the earliest.

Northrop F-5E Tiger II Swiss Air Force

Image above: The choice of this new combat aircraft designed to replace the F-5 Tiger E become technologically and generational obsolete.

Besides, the testing phase represents the most problematic part of any new aircraft model development, along with all the defects found during testing. In this scenario, Switzerland would become a partner for Sweden and would participate in the development of the aircraft, with all the additional financial risks inherent to developing and constructing such a fighter. For the moment, the only experience Switzerland possesses in aircraft manufacturing breaks down to Pilatus aircrafts with single engine propellers.

Dassault has accepted payment by installments and has the ability to rapidly deliver an omni-role fighter (with more operational capabilities than multi-role fighters). The Rafale is in perfect working condition and its technology is being constantly improved, e.g. with a latest generation "SAR"-type embarked radar, while Saab plans to introduce "RAVEN"-type radars, which is not yet fully developed.

The Rafale has a range of operational flight of 1 hour and 20 minutes, against 30 minutes for the Gripen (with its ventral fuel tank). Therefore it takes three Gripen to do the job of one Rafale. Which triples the hour flight cost of a Gripen.

 Comparative table of proportions fighter jets 4th Generation

Finally, given Switzerland's current fiscal challenges with several countries, it would highly advisable for the country to negotiate, with the government concerned, a fiscal agreement right next to the aircraft purchase contract. From a "bad contributor", Switzerland would turn into a great customer for another thirty years, bearing in mind that thirty years is what it takes for a country to pay off a fighter aircraft.

Related links:

SAAB Group website - (In German) Gripen und die Schweiz, die ideale partnerschaft:

SAAB Group site web - (In French) Le Gripen et la Suisse, le partenariat idéal:

Dassault Aviation Group website:

Images, Text, Credits: Saab / Dassault Aviation / Swiss Army / KGM Aviation / Aerospace.

N.B.: The Swiss Air Force and Swiss Army is mentioned for images sources, this article is completely independent of the governments and their institutions.

Best regards,