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Saab proposes to build Gripen in Canada and strengthen aerospace innovation

By Chris Thatcher | December 15, 2020

Estimated reading time 6 minutes, 58 seconds.

Saab will build its Gripen E in Canada if the aircraft is selected as the Royal Canadian Air Force’s (RCAF’s) next-generation fighter jet.

The Gripen E is one of three options currently being considered by the Canadian government to replace the RCAF’s fleet of legacy CF-188 Hornets. Saab, supported by the Swedish government, submitted its offer of 88 aircraft, sustainment and training services in late July. The other two bids, backed by the United States government, are the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II and the Boeing Block III Super Hornet.

The Gripen E is one of three options currently being considered by the Canadian government to replace the RCAF’s fleet of legacy CF-188 Hornets. Jamie Hunter Photo

“If the Gripen is selected . . . Saab is committed to build, support, sustain, enhance and upgrade Canada’s Gripen in Canada by Canadians,” Micael Johansson, president of Saab, said on the opening day of the International Aerospace Week forum, hosted virtually by Aero Montreal, on Dec. 14.

While assembly of the aircraft would done by IMP Aerospace & Defence at its facility in Enfield, N.S., the combat mission systems would be built and maintained at one of two new research facilities proposed for the Montreal area.

As part of its Industrial and Technological Benefits (ITB) package, Saab is offering to establish a Gripen Centre that would provide management of the mission system program, and support research and development of enhanced capabilities for the fighter “to respond to ever-evolving threats,” said Johansson. “[It would] play a key role in sustainment of the Gripen and its associated systems, including upgrades, fleet management, repairs and modification.”

The centre would become a focal point for the transfer of knowledge and intellectual property (IP) associated with the sensors, electronic warfare and combat systems, giving Canada greater control over its ability to meet NORAD and NATO mission requirements, he noted.

“That’s really the important thing [to] being able to support and sustain the fighter for the life of the program,” added Patrick Palmer, executive vice-president and head of sales and marketing in Canada, during a press briefing after the announcement.

The Gripen centre would be staffed primarily by members of a Canadian team announced in March 2020, which includes IMP, CAE, Peraton Canada and GE Aviation. But there could be additional opportunities for Canadian companies, noted Palmer. The team is “as we have defined it, [but] there are other elements on the team that are going to be coming forth over the next period of time.”

Saab has adopted a somewhat similar approach with Brazil, the only current foreign customer for the Gripen E, establishing the Gripen Design and Development Network to serve as a hub for technology transfer and development of the fighters. The Brazilian Air Force took possession and flew its first F-39 aircraft in September 2020. Though the Gripen Centre in Montreal would be unique to Canada, Saab will capitalize on its Brazilian experience with IP and knowledge transfer “to mitigate any risks,” said Palmer.

Saab is offering to establish a Gripen Centre in Canada that would provide management of the mission system program, and support R&D of enhanced capabilities for the fighter. Pictured is Saab’s Gripen test centre. Saab Photo

Johansson also announced an Aerospace Research & Development Centre, co-located with the Gripen Centre, to focus on “developing a rich ecosystem for research and innovation, . . . a key component of Saab’s long-term vision in Canada.”

The second centre would collaborate with Canadian engineers, scientists, academia and governments to “develop, test and produce next-generation aerospace systems and components to compliment the existing aerospace industry,” he explained.

While R&D might overlap with some elements of the Gripen E program, the broader aim would be to spur innovation in “a number of different areas . . . that we are very interested in looking at, such as autonomous systems, capabilities to make a greener aircraft and artificial intelligence,” Simon Carroll, president of Saab Canada, said during the media briefing. “To do that, we are looking to engage with numerous other partners, other defence and government organizations, and university and other academia. We are looking at a really collaborative space.”

More important for Canadian industry, the goal would be to develop systems and components for global export. The fighter program, observed Johansson, could mean “generational economic benefits” for the aerospace sector.

In all, the two centres and the work generated by the acquisition program, such as training system development by CAE, could create several thousand long-term jobs in the province, he said.

In a closing statement to the forum, Anna Hallberg, Sweden’s Minister for Foreign Trade and Nordic Affairs, emphasized the similarities between Canada and Sweden, including production of NHL players. Canada is Sweden’s eighth largest export market and shares numerous R&D interests, she noted. “I believe the defence sector has the potential to increase our bilateral trade and investment exchange even further.”

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  1. Sounds like a win win which is likely why it’ll never happen. I’m sure we’ll have the F35 foisted on us.

    1. William, I agree with your comment, but do feel it’s time to start giving the Gripen E program positive energy. Perhaps, if enough minds focus on that outcome there is a better chance it will be selected.

    2. don’t know Canadians hate the f35 so much is it because Canada never buys non-american jets to appease America, even so, f35 should be superior to the Grippen even if Grippen looks way sexier like a Swedish supermodel it’s really an European f16v

      1. The Grippen has a lot of features that make it attractive for a country like Canada. As for why people don’t like the F35 is because they were robbed designing it because of the way the US government does business. They were basically given a blank check to develop it, and they took advantage of it and Canadians are sure they will continue to do so. I have to say I agree. The costs are only going to go up when Canada is locked in once they have purchased the aircraft.

      2. How about the fact that the Gripen ACTUALLY WORKS and the F-35 doesn’t? Or maybe the fact that evidence was uncovered that Harper LIED to us about the F-35? Those are VERY good reasons to hate the F-35. If it was really so good, Harper wouldn’t have had to lie to us and the US wouldn’t have had to apply diplomatic pressure to Norway to get them to choose it. I hope that this answers your questions.

  2. Ya know, I thought that there’s something funny about all of this. Let’s take a long look at all of this. Now I’m sure Saab is giving it their best efforts schmoozing Quebec and Maritime provincial politicians and I seriously can’t blame them. Nothing speaks better and rings louder in Ottawa than votes and more aerospace R & D and the associated jobs and infrastructures that Saab would bring to its efforts in Quebec and Nova Scotia. However it’s worth knowing that Canada from time to time would be tasked to take on a strike/air combat leadership role on land, sea or air and given that, Canada in wanting not only the US but its NATO partners to have faith in its air wing leadership capabilities, has as well high expectations of itself when tasked to bringing the best it could possibly have to offer to that role. Gripen E would all be fine and dandy if Canada were a neutral non-aligned state like Sweden and not deeply integrated into NATO and NORAD command and fire control systems, but say a fringe player such as Sweden for example or at the level of those NATO members who would be tasked to take lesser roles such as Hungary or the Czech Republic, whose airforces do fly Gripens. However, Canada is and will be expected to take air, sea and land leadership roles that it cannot cherry pick. That’s a fact. Now if Gripen E is up to that task, awesome! Go for it. However understand fully that what the Canadian’s military does brings to NORAD and the NATO table as well, is its SigsInt and EL/INT expertise. It is the incredible amounts of signals intel and electronic intelligence data which the sensors onboard the F-35 soaks up and brings to the Canadian game. As well for readers information Gripen E’s electronic scattered array set up or AESA is not Lockheed’s Spy/7 AEGIS integrated system used to track and guide combat weapons such as anti ship missiles which will be the system installed on the RCN’s new Type 26 CSC frigates. So, Saabs Gripen E will be the square peg in the round hole in that discussion as well. Now, given the decision that has already been made in regard to the RCN’s new frigates, I find it difficult to understand why Saab feels its Gripen E proposal is still relevant in the Type 26 discussion when Airbus and Dassault pulled out of the competition months ago, given the same facts and reality. Politics and schmooze money? I certainly hope not. To go with Gripen E would require the whole-sale change to the CSC type 26 frigate decision. And that ain’t gonna happen folks. My guess is that once the Type 26 frigate decision was made, the fix was in for a down the road purchase for 88 F-35’s from Lockheed. Unless of course, Procurement Canada is completely naive to that fact or they already know that their hands are tied to both the Type 26 and the F-35. Just saying.

    1. JAS-39 Gripen software is a highly modular design which makes it easier to integrate weapons or other systems.
      SAAB also makes other systems and have great knowledge of Air, Land and Sea systems which it already sold and delivered to NATO members.
      It’s list of SAAB NATO customers include France, Poland, UK, USA and so on.
      SAAB isn’t some obscure unknown player it’s a world class defense manufacture as an example they lead the development in GaN based AESA radars.
      SAAB isn’t new to data links and command and control systems that connects sensors, radar and other information and has had systems in use since the 1960s.
      SAAB doesn’t only make JAS-39 Gripen their product portfolio includes Globaleye (AEW&C), stealth ships and submarines, surface radars, naval weapon systems, air defense systems and radars, anti-ship missiles, combat systems, communication systems and so on they have a portfolio other defense companies can’t match on there own.
      My intention isn’t that SAAB is superior in any way but rather that it has a great knowledge and experience in many areas that could lead to great solutions and one should not look at SAAB as inferior but rather a liable option and i am sure Canada will be able to integrate what ever they need like everywhere else in the world that has integrated SAAB equipment.

      The biggest reason i see for Canada to turn to the USA for a fighter jet is that it’s not only about the jet, technologies and work opportunities but rather a strategic cooperation and relations and i do understand that many countries much rather develops them with the USA than Sweden.

      1. With the Biden administration unilaterally cancelling the Keystone XL Pipeline Project and might possibly shutting down the existing Line 5, I would rather see the Canadian government returning the favor by awarding the Fighter Jet Procurement project to SAAB as long as it meets the requirement of the program. But revenge set aside, the most important benefit that the Gripen will bring to Canada are the jobs that will be created when those planes are assembled and maintained here, the technological transfer and knowhow that would be gained, the low cost of operating these planes compared to the F-35 and F-18, the adaptability of these planes to be stationed in Canada’s frigid North.

    2. About the frigates Halifax-class actually uses CMS330 Combat Management System that make use of SAAB’s 9LV Combat Management System.
      They also use Saab Sea Giraffe HC 150 (G band) air and surface radar, SAAB CEROS-200 Fire control radar.
      Different versions of SAAB 9LV systems are widely used in NATO, examples of 9LV solutions C4I (Command, Control, Communications, Computers and Information), CMS (Combat Management System), CS (Combat System), FCS (Fire Control System) and so on.
      The Type 26 CSC frigates will also use SAAB 9LV as well since it’s one of the best systems and widely used in modern naval solutions around the globe.
      It’s not anything strange with SAAB still being in the competition after others had to drop out since the combat systems it will need to talk to use SAAB technology also SAAB is experts at integrating to these kinds of systems.
      JAS-39 also soaks up and shares an incredible amounts of signals, intel, electronic intelligence data, sensors and gives an unmatched situational awareness much like the F-35.
      Now we need to let Canada decide what solution they find best for there needs and strategic relations.

  3. Opportunity for Blackberry to produce the working software. Big news for Canadian industry. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

  4. Saab will be a shoe-in.
    A Gripen Centre in Montreal, Province of Quebec, is all it would take to win favor with our PM, from Montreal, PQ.

  5. Regarding the F-35, it is a mess and can hardly be considered as operational. Continuing major issues with the helmet, parts availability, engine and parts quality. If you really want to see how bad it is, check out the American GAO ( government accountability office) reports. They are a real eye opener and not good for the F-35. With regards to the Super Hornet B3, other than the USN, there are very very few other countries flying them. They are a dead end. The last carrier that we had here in Canada was a fleet carrier and that has been long gone since the very early 60s. and it was used for anti sub warfare. At the end of WW2, Canada had the 3rd largest navy in the world. We are no longer a sea power. Regarding the Saab Jas39-E, while it is the least expensive jet to buy and operate, do not discount it. During a Red Flag event, that little fighter was able to come within easy firing range against an F-22 and a Eurofighter and the pilots of those jets didn’t even know it was there. It has one of the highest instant turn rates nearly matching the F-22 and the Eurofighter.. In air to air against the F16, it won most of the time.
    Stealth is the current flavor of the day. but, with the advancement of better radars and IRST, stealth will no longer be an asset of any kind. Even today, stealth is no longer a safety thing for stealth aircraft. With the hourly costs of the F-22 and the F-35, there are very very few countries that can afford to but them let alone maintain them. This is one of the main reasons as to why the US stopped building them after a relatively short production run. If one crashes, it is not replaced.
    Regarding the type 26 frigate that Canada is looking at, if Canada were to purchase the F-35 ( heaven forbid) Canada might as well forget the type 26 as there will no longer be enough money to to buy the type 26 because the F-35 will take almost all of the Canadian military budget which is already not much.

  6. I would prefer to have the Gripen E for Canada. Enough with buying stuff from the USA. Largest trading partner, closest ally….blah blah. Time for us to do something for Canada and Canadians. The Gripen has long been tested and available this is the fifth variant of it. Which means that it is been tested and flown thousands of hours. Not only that Sweden has a very similar climate as Canada which means that cold weather would not effect it as much.

    The cost overruns etc. of the F35 is ridiculous, why should Canada go into hock for buying aircraft from the USA. The F-35 has not flown anywhere near the amount of hours the Gripen has. If Canada buys these then we have the plants to build them – BONUS. Second this would open up more trade initiatives with Sweden and possibly Europe. Time for Canada to stop looking to the south for business and trade and look to open up more with the UK and Europe.

  7. I would like to see these flying in Canada. I am just tired of always seeing US made aircraft which are over priced & no better really then the competition……

  8. All excellent reasons not to buy the American white elephants…. and it should be simple enough that we can fix it ourselves. If we can’t, just what will we do with it? Add two squadrons of turbo-prop ground support planes ($1,200 an hour instead of 24k (F-16C) 28k (F-35A) or 33k (F-35C) $US. That was all that was needed in Iraq and Afghanistan…) and we can afford to train our pilots.

  9. Enough money has been wasted on the F35, even the USA is is looking for alternatives. Not particularly happy about most of the jobs ending up in Quebec again with a few token jobs to NS though. Rather see them build out some infrastructure in Alberta so they can slowly transition from oil. I live in BC so no interest other than wanting to see them less reliant on one industry. Naive maybe.

  10. If the aircraft are judged on range, speed, payload and cost the Gripen is the clear winner. The F-35 ace in the hole is stealth technology but that has a best before date. The original stealth fighters, the F-117s are now visible on advanced radars and a couple have been shot down. Canada will operate the f-18 for forty years. If they operate the F-35 for the same time the stealth technology will become less and less useful as technology moves forward. Canada should look at the long term suitability of whatever they purchase.

  11. We had the Arrow (CF-105) and the USA shut us down because….? Had a nice passenger plane, (BCS1-3) took them away. Always like a beat-up, lost, adopted red stepson. Having our boots over sized and shoes full of holes. No wonder we don’t have a identity, we keep taking it away. We now have a an aircraft that we can build to ourselves. We just add another engine of the Saab JAS 39 Gripen II-Series, it’s CANADIAN!

  12. well people, how do you like those apples? I am positive there is a heavy American thumb here. Who in their right mind ( except for the elected ones-sometimes) would by a jet whose cost to fly exceeds US $33,000/hour which would be built in another country (USA) instead of going with a different company ( SAAB) who offers their jet to be built here in Canada by Canadians and the full and complete transfer of all the tech stuff and costs around US $10,000/hour and far more reliable at that? Only in Canada heh?! Fuddle duddle

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