Saturday, January 23, 2016
Book Review: Saab Gripen: Sweden's 21st Century Multi-role Aircraft
Saab Gripen: Sweden's 21st Century Multi-role Aircraft
Hinkley, UK: Midland Publishing, 2003
Category: Aviation History
Many of us are familiar with Sweden's prized weapons independence and arms export industry - the product of sitting-out two world wars as a non-aligned entity. The details behind how such a complex weapons program as the Saab JAS-39 Gripen came to be developed and reach production, however, are often less well known.
Despite attempts to portray the JAS-39 Gripen as a strictly Swedish product, this book pays homage to just how much of the technology and components for the Gripen are actually imported from other nations with their own, well financed aerospace programs. The engine of course, is assembled in Sweden as the Volvo RM12. But it was designed in the United States by General Electric as a version of the F404, and many of the key components in its assembly are still imported from the United States. The composite wings were designed and developed in the UK, before production eventually shifted to Sweden. The gun is supplied by Germany. The fuel system by France. This multinational supply base was actually part of the key as to why the Gripen was able to reach production at an affordable cost - unlike programs such as India's Tejas for example, which originally attempted to develop all of the necessary components and technology in-house, leading to huge cost overruns and decades of delays before outside technological assistance was finally sought to complete the program.
The book also provides a comprehensive history for the development trades that went into the Gripen, including sketches for the early concept studies that evaluated different design options - some of them radically different from the final aircraft. All of this is supplemented by an excellent assortment of full color photography, illustrating the development, flight test, and operational experience of the program.
The one item I would have liked to have seen added to the book, would have been a comprehensive weights and performance roll-up, something that Saab has traditionally been cagey about supplying openly. The book includes statistics for maximum take-off weight, for example, but not for the empty weight or internal fuel weight of the aircraft, or for its effective combat radius. Nonetheless, Gerard Keijsper has succeeded in producing what is otherwise a fairly comprehensive history behind this highly successful fighter program.