Procurement: F-35 Sells As Su-30 Stopper


November 24,2008: Norway has decided to buy the more expensive U.S. F-35, rather than the less expensive Gripen from neighbor Sweden. What changed Norwegian minds was a series of computer simulations by the Norwegian Defense Institute, which concluded that the Gripen could not provide much of a fight against the Russian advanced Su-30 fighters, or the new Russian fifth generation fighter.

Often regarded as an also-ran in the current crop of "modern jet fighters," the Swedish Gripen has long proved to be more competition than the major players (the F-16, F-18, F-35, Eurofighter, Rafale, MiG-29 and Su-27) expected. Put simply, Gripen does a lot of little, but important, things right, and costs about half as much (at about $30 million each) as its major competitors. In effect, Gripen provides the ruggedness and low cost of Russian aircraft, with the high quality and reliability of Western aircraft. For many nations, like South Africa, the Czech Republic and Hungary, this is an appealing combination. The Gripen is easy to use (both for pilots and ground crews), and capable of doing all jet fighter jobs (air defense, ground support and reconnaissance) well enough.

The Gripen is small (14 ton max weight), but can carry up to 3.6 tons of weapons. With the increasing use of smart bombs, this is adequate. The aircraft entered active service in 1997, and has had an uphill battle getting export sales. Sweden does not have the diplomatic clout of its major competitors, so they have to push quality and service. Swedish warplanes, and products in general, have an excellent reputation in both categories. Nevertheless, the Gripen is still expected to lose out on a lot of sales simply because politics took precedence over performance.

Norway shares a border with Russia, and Russian warplanes have been increasingly active off Norway's northern coast. The decision to go for the F-35 was based largely on the ability of that aircraft to put up some real opposition against the best that Russia has, or will have in the next decade or so.

U.S. Air Force simulations and studies have shown the F-35 to be four times as effective against any current fighter (the best of them known as "fourth generation" aircraft.) The major advantages of the F-35 are engine power (it's one engine generates more power than the two engines used in the Eurofighter or F-18), stealth and the fact that it can fight "clean" (without any pods or missiles hung from its wings, and interfering with maximum maneuverability).

The 27 ton F-35 is armed with an internal 25mm cannon and four internal air-to-air missiles (or two missiles and two smart bombs). Plus four external smart bombs and two missiles. All sensors are carried internally, and max weapon load is 6.8 tons. The aircraft is very stealthy when just carrying internal weapons. The first F-35s will be delivered in two years.





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