Gripen E v/s. F-16 Block 70: Which Fighter Jet Will Nirmala Choose Under Make-in-India?

As India looks to replace its ageing Soviet-era lightweight combat aircraft fleet, two players have emerged as possible contenders, American defence major Lockheed Martin’s F-16 Fighting Falcon Block 70 and Swedish defence major Saab’s Gripen E fighter aircraft.

Indian Air Force (IAF) has requirement of over 400 fighter aircraft, which is far higher than the 126 aircraft that were supposed to be made by the now junked Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) competition, IANS reported.

The entire fleet will have to be replaced with modern aircraft and a deal is in the works to buy 126 aircraft. What needs to be decided is which fighter jet India will buy. The choice is between The F 16 Block 70 produced by American firm Lockheed Martin and the JAS 39 Gripen E by Swedish company Saab.

The deal, whoever wins it, will be inked under Prime Minister Modi’s ‘Make in India’ doctrine. The aircraft will be manufactured on Indian soil. For the Make in India push, Lockheed Martin has tied up with Tata while Saab recently announced a partnership with the Adani Group.

Now once again here we are where we have to chose between some more new variants of the 4Gs. After cancelling MMRCA tender because of being fucked up by Dassault’s price changes. The new tender floated to locally manufacture single engine fighter aircraft have fighters for it. The tender has attracted two wonderful aircrafts throwing a whole new competition for Indians. And of course a whole new debate topic for Aviation geeks. The F 16 Block 70 which is dubbed to be the most advanced variant of F 16 and The Saab Gripen NG/ E.

Here we are bringing to you the full spectrum of EW capabilities, Weapons and Other warfare capabilities plus potential weaknesses. So that we can make a proper choice as to which one could be better.

Number 1 :- Block 70 F-16

This came up as a Surprise as nobody thought Lockheed Martin would make any further advancement to the system after making Block 60 for the Arabs. The F 16 IN Super Viper a contender in MMRCA competition is considered to be quite close to Block 70. But still Block 70 packs much masala in it to be an attractive choice for the EW dominated battlefield of the future and today. The strategic advantage as what being talked in defence circles is that Last Production line of F 16 will be shifted in India.

The Block 70 is the most advanced of all F-16s. There are 27 countries in the world who fly these planes, with the latest to join in two months time will be Romania.

The Block 70 F-16 will have the 5th generation fighter radar capabilities, some of which are greater detection and tracking ranges, multiple target track, high resolution synthetic aperture radar, auto target classification and cueing, advanced growth modes.

Lockheed martin has been in talks with the Indian Govt since April to bring the Texas production line to India, and 2017 is the timeframe they are looking at. About jobs being impacted back home in the US, Howard said that the F-35 fighter jet facility will be ramped up, meaning the F-16 workers will be absorbed there.

“The F-16 is by far the easiest fighter amongst its rivals…The new fighters, like Gripen, have a lot of composite materials, and lack a lot of generational changes and modifications over its lifetime.”The F-16 would be a great choice for India. Combat proven time and again. Upgradable with a high survivability portfolio.

Within the IAF, which has for the last four decades, focused its training and tactics on fighting Pakistan F-16s, there is entrenched resistance to buying that fighter. Further, the air marshals are certain Washington would never allow Lockheed Martin to offer the kind of holistic proposal and technology transfer that Saab has offered.

Assuaging these concerns, Ben Schwartz, who heads aerospace and defence for the US-India Business Council says: “The F-16 offers would come in as FMS deals with unprecedented technology transfer and Make-in-India characteristics.  A lot of work has gone into evaluating the level of indigenization – more so than in any other case that people can recall.” Backing him up, a senior Pentagon official says: “In US-India negotiations today, you have to throw away all the assumptions of the past about what Washington will allow and what it will deny. Don’t assume anything is off the table.”

Radar and Sensor Suite :~

It is equipped with AN/ APG 83 AESA radar. Described as Agile beam it can perform Air to Air and Air to Ground Search and Track simultaneously. The noise reduction features of this one has made its range improved to almost 70 miles almost 84 km for engagement. The image quality in air to ground mode is described as imagery-class. Just the same that is acquired from satellites. They can be acquired from long distances for air to ground targets and using its synthetic aperture radar mode pilots can locate and recognise the ground targets. Prioritise them and engage.
The new MMC modules of it’s computers are said to be 30 % faster than previous ones. Which allows sensor data fusion from the EW sensors for better situational awareness , here notably the data transfer network is quite faster than previous systems like Link 16. It is also equipped with Off boresight aiming sensor which allows pilot to sense and target something out of his field of view.

It also features a pilot friendly automatic ground collision avoidance system. Which continuously tracks pilot’s awareness with respect to decreasing altitude. It makes pilot aware and turns up the aircraft automatically if it goes too close to ground. Because while manoeuvring the aircraft to follow an enemy aircraft. The enemy may try to run wmaway by staying low and outmatching F 16 whike taking ups and downs. The F 16 may then be hitting a Mountain or be directed towards the ground then this system becomes ‘Tactically Important’.

Reasons for India to select F16

1 Single Supply Chain. More availability of parts. Faster Availability in wartime.
2 Battle Proven platform and sold to many NATO countries and various countries worldwide. So India can sell F 16 spare parts.
3 One of the most advanced Variant of F 16. With almost Medium Weight Category like capabilties.
4 Strategic advantage of grounding F 16s of Pakistan Air Force.

5The fact that the F16 has proven itself in battle over the years certainly means F16 would be the “safer” bet over the Gripen. Besides, Lockheed Martin has offered to sell the F 16 Block 70, the latest variant, to India. This means that in the event of a military confrontation, India would have a technical advantage over its regional rival Pakistan, which continues to use the Block 52.

6 From a ‘Make in India’ perspective, partnering with Lockheed Martin, the largest producer of defence equipment in the world, certainly has its advantages. The F 16 has a single supply chain, which means that the entire aircraft can be manufactured and assembled at one facility. During war time, aircraft can be produced at a much faster rate. Since the F 16 has a wider market, India would be able to sell not just aircraft but also spare parts to other parts of the world

Reasons for not selecting F 16

1 High Operating and Life cycle costs as compared to Gripen.
2 Less Sensor packed than Gripen.
3 Adversary Air Forces know F 16 better so they can formulate Strategies to counter it.
4 No specific advantage to Other Indian Indegeneous products like LCA.

The Sensor technology of the F 16 is inferior to that of the Gripen. While the Block 70 may present a technological advantage over Pakistan in the event of an armed confrontation, it presents a strategic disadvantage since the Pakistan Air Force knows the F 16 aircraft better than the IAF and can plan accordingly. F 16s were first commissioned by Pakistan during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan to counter both the Soviet Union and India. Since then, it has formed the bulk of the PAF fleet.

Seeing the requirement of IAF , the track record of F 16. This could be a better choice. Many people feel that Usage of F 119 engine could be a deal breaker but maintenance of that is quite expensive. It is unconfirmed yet. Even the USAF finds it hectic to maintain it. The F 16 has been used in wargames all around the world and therefore it wouldn’t be a formidable challenge for IAF’s enemies to develop counter strategies. The 16000m service cieling allows it to fly over himalayas comfortably.

Number 2 :~ Saab JAS 39 Gripen E.

The Gripen makers since the days of MMRCA competition are quite desperate to make sale to IAF. So much that we all know they even gave an advertisement on a Bus Stop in New Delhi. Be it Draken Viggen or Gripen the Swedes have always impressed the world with thier designs. Now Gripen is something truely solid and comes with an proven combat service. The Canarded Delta Wing design is better in manoeuvrability as we all know. But what the Gripen E offers here is a Contemporary Electronic Warfare abilities that is what truly matters in Next Gen. warfare. The price is high but that is because Gripen has got so much to offer.

Gripen NG is the most advanced multi-role fighter in the world. Gripen is, by design, a true multi-role fighter aircraft, capable of performing an extensive range of air-to-air, air-to-surface and reconnaissance missions under all conditions in any environment.

Saab has also set out a comprehensive plan within India’s Make in India initiative, which will include transfer of state-of-the-art technology; setting up of an aerospace eco-system in India, including a manufacturing facility; creation of a local supplier base; employment of a well-trained Indian workforce in engineering and manufacturing

Gripen offers operational dominance and flexibility with superior mission survivability. Air-to-air superiority is guaranteed with METEOR, AMRAAM, IRIS-T, AIM-9 missile capability and supercruise. Air-to-surface capability is assured through the use of the latest generation precision weapons and targeting sensors. Gripen’s superior situation awareness is ensured through an AESA radar, IRST passive sensor, HMD, cutting-edge avionics, next generation data processing and a state-of-the-art cockpit.

While the IAF apparently likes the Gripen NG While it’s not a Gen-5 fighter, the Gripen NG’s data link — a key element in modern air combat — is reputedly the world’s most advanced. Its avionics are built of Gallium Nitride, which delivers superior performance over conventional Gallium Arsenide avionics. The Gripen NG carries diverse weaponry from various countries, including the French Meteor beyond visual range air-to-air missile (BVRAAM), reputedly the world’s most advanced, with an estimated range of about 150 kilometres. Independent researcher IHS Jane’s, finds the Gripen the cheapest contemporary fighter to operate.


Sensor Suite :~

This one is quite impressive amongst all the 4Gs.

Selex Galileo-Raven ES-05 AESA. This radar offers a 200° Coverage owing to its swashplate technique it sees where others are blind. This becomes quite important while on a CAS mission.

IRST (Infra-Red Seach and Track) passive sensor system / Skyward G-infrared active product by Selex-ES is synchronized (acquisition data transmission between devices) and also provides the ability to hang missiles reconciliation to fight.

Gripen E has a new electronic architecture (Net Centric Warfare – NCW). Judged ten times faster than its competitors. The new central system PPLI (Participant Precise Location and Identification) and connects all the slopes internal and external sensors (RAVEN, IRST, EW39, ATFLIR pod) and then offer the best responses to threats. This is right now best thing in Gripen as per me and after F 35 it is the only fighter to be able of that.

The Gripen E is driven by General Electric’s (GE) F414G turbofan engine rated at 22,000lb (98kN). It features a new high-pressure turbine and a new six-stage, high-pressure compressor.

“The aircraft’s engine and design enable it to fly at supersonic speed without using an afterburner.”

The Gripen E features a digital cockpit with three large multi-functional displays (MFD) including a few 3D screens. The cockpit also features a hands-on-throttle-and-stick (HOTAS) which provides superior situational awareness for the pilot.


Reasons for India to select Gripen.

1 Gripen has lowest per unit life cycle and operating costs almost USD 4000.
2 Gripen is the most sensor packed and smartest fighter amongst the Fourth Generation Fighter Aircraft.
3 Gripen makers. The Saab has offered to help India manufacture LCA Tejas and Offer Naval Version of Gripen to Indian Navy IAC and IAC 2.

Reasons for not selecting Gripen.

1 Gripen uses American Engine so it will be difficult to manage supply chain.
2 Gripen’s per unit manufacturing cost is higher than that of LM F 16 blk 70.
3 Relatively less battle proven than F 16.

Conclusion :~

So these were the awesomest 4Gs we have got as a choice for replacing the MiG 21s of Indian air force. Seeing the depleting squadron strength it is critical that the decision be taken fast.

The fact that the Gripen uses an American engine and it raises doubts over the effectiveness of the Supply chain that Saab hopes to set up in India. Lockheed Martin, on the other hand, can provide a single supply chain.

While the operating cost of the Gripen is less than that of the F 16 Block 70, the ‘per unit’ cost of each aircraft is much higher. Besides, it has not been proven in combat the way the F 16 has. The F 16 has been used extensively in battle and in wargames and a strategic partnership with an American firm may further bolster India-US relations. This is an advantage that Saab may not be able to provide.




Gripen NG F-16 Block 70
Cost Estimated to be about 25 per cent costlier than F-16 Large numbers already built make F-16 highly affordable
Combat experience New fighter, not yet combat tested Extensively flown in combat, proven worldwide over decades
Design maturity New aircraft, at early stage of design life 1970s design, reaching end of design life
Aerodynamic performance Highly agile fighter, with new F-414 engine Early model F-16s were superbly agile, but Block 70 fighters, with conformal fuel tanks, are less aerodynamic
Combat performance State-of-the-art cockpit, cutting-edge Gallium Nitride (GaN) avionics, superbly networked through two-way data links, fused combat picture reduces pilot workload Older cockpit design, less integrated network environment, older one-way data links, older Gallium Arsenide avionics
Combat availability Low turn-around time, low flying cost, generates more sorties per day Fewer sorties, but each one carries heavier weapons package
Manufacture Will set up brand new manufacturing plant in India, but no experience in transferring production Will transfer old F-16 plant from Fort Worth, Texas; but has experience of building 4,500 F-16s, and of transferring production abroad
Weapons suite Integrated with weaponry from multiple countries, including US missiles and Meteor long-range missile Integrated with mainly US weaponry and missiles. Will require source codes for integrating other missiles
Flexibility Short take-off and landing capability allows mission turnaround even on highways. Can be modified easily into Sea Gripen for aircraft carrier operations Cannot operate from highways, requires ground support kit, no scope for aircraft carrier operations
Technology transfer Likely to be easier, not governed by restricting export control regime. Committed to transfer AESA radar technology Will be at discretion of US government, complex US export control laws. Unlikely to transfer AESA radar technology




Source:- FullAfterBurner && Ajai Shukla



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