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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.
“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.
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.”