TechSaab reveals details of new 6th-gen fighter: flexible and innovative

Saab reveals details of new 6th‑gen fighter: flexible and innovative

JAS39 Gripen
JAS39 Gripen
Images source: © Saab

5:47 PM EDT, May 22, 2024

When most countries planning to build new combat aircraft seek international cooperation, Sweden once again takes its path. Despite being involved in the international FCAS future aircraft project, Saab is also working on an independent Swedish 6th-generation combat aircraft, the FFS. What is known about it?

The first specifics about the FFS (Future Fighter System) program were presented on May 21 by Peter Nilsson from Saab. Although general information about the ongoing work was confirmed as early as mid-2023, and in March, Saab announced the signing of an agreement with the Swedish Defense Procurement Agency (FMV), it was only this new presentation that shed some light on what the next Swedish aircraft is expected to be.

At the current stage, Saab is conducting conceptual work on future combat systems, including manned and unmanned machines. Partners include the armed forces, the Swedish Defense Research Agency (FOI), the Swedish industry, and the British company GKN Aerospace.

Preliminary assumptions predict the construction of a machine conceptually similar to the Gripen and the Russian Su-75. The future Swedish combat aircraft is expected to be light, single-engine, and capable of operating both as a manned aircraft and a drone.

Sweden doesn't need to rush

It is worth noting that Sweden enjoys the comfort resulting from the introduction into service – in cooperation with Brazil – of the Gripen E/F aircraft. Although this machine looks similar to previous Gripen variants, it is about 20 percent larger, and with new avionics and radar, it has completely new capabilities. In practice, it is a new aircraft, maintaining the aerodynamic layout of its predecessor.

As a result, the machine is assessed as matching—except for stealth properties—5th-generation aircraft. The capabilities of the Gripen E/F are so extensive that Sweden plans to operate these aircraft even into the 2060s, especially since stealth properties achieved through airframe shaping are becoming less important in the context of the development of electronic warfare systems.

"We don't immediately need a new fighter, although that may be different for other countries. We want to start early with conceptual work to be in a better position when decisions need to be made regarding the new generation aircraft," said Gen. Lars Helmrich from the Swedish Defense Procurement Agency.

The work schedule assumes that binding decisions will be made only in 2031. Stockholm will then be able to decide on the further independent development of its own aircraft or on supporting one of the two currently ongoing European 6th-generation combat aircraft programs—GCAP or FCAS.

Swedish innovations

It is worth emphasizing that Sweden's independent work on a new machine fits into the several decades-long tradition of the Swedish aviation industry. Since the end of the Second World War, Sweden has consistently developed and produced successive generations of combat aircraft designed according to the specific requirements of the Swedish Air Force.

JA37 Viggen
JA37 Viggen© Licensor

Although these machines usually did not achieve significant export success, they were both modern and innovative. The list is impressive: the Saab 21 had an ejection seat, the Saab 29 had slanted wings, and the Saab JA37 Viggen was recognized as the first fully multi-role jet fighter.

Built-in a double delta configuration, the Saab J35 Draken allowed Swedish pilots to perform aerial acrobatics 60 years ago. In recent years, it has been wrongly considered a Russian specialty, the so-called Pugachev's Cobra.

Specific needs, unique designs

The assumptions accompanying the design of newer structures, such as the JAS39 Gripen, are also unusual. Its designers focused not only on the aircraft's performance or combat capabilities but also on the greatest possible simplification of its maintenance.

The Gripen was designed so that on an ad hoc, undeveloped airfield (such as a road runway section), a few conscripts with basic training, working under the supervision of one technician, would be able to prepare the aircraft for the next takeoff within 10-20 minutes.

For this reason, the Gripen is often mentioned among Western aircraft that could significantly assist Ukraine. It is light, easy to maintain, and does not require as extensive support infrastructure as other Western designs.

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