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Gripens Galore! Saab Is Never Going To Leave Asia

October 1, 2018

Via Wikimedia Commons.

The reigning giant of Sweden’s military-industrial complex has quietly laid the groundwork for a prolonged stay in some very big markets. This was apparent during the recent ADAS 2018 in Manila, the capital of the Philippines. Saab commanded what had to be the largest exhibit during the three-day arms show that included a life-sized replica of its Gripen E multirole fighter. Visitors were encouraged to climb aboard the cockpit and immerse themselves in a flight simulator.

For several years now Saab has cultivated ties with the Philippine military as it positions itself to win a multibillion dollar contract for a Gripen squadron. With the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) now in its Horizon 2 modernization program, the Philippine Air Force (PAF) remains committed to its Flight Plan 2028 that anticipates total dominance over national airspace–so it needs real jets!

Another potential coup for Saab is the Philippine Navy’s (PN) search for a diesel-electric submarine and it wasn’t a coincidence a tabletop scale model of the A26 Disruptor was put on display during ADAS 2018. The A26 is a submarine hailed for providing “littoral supremacy.” This means it excels at patrolling shallow waters. Saab also claims it has “the latest stealth technology and advanced tactical communications” and its air-independent propulsion is “very difficult to detect.” If a navy chooses the A26, Saab insist it can perform at least eight vital missions: maritime patrol, intelligence gathering, sea mine detection, stealth mine-laying, transporting commandos, anti-submarine warfare, attacking enemy ships, and “destroying underwater objects.”

But any major deals between Manila and Stockholm won’t materialize soon. President Rodrigo Duterte and his cabinet visited Israel last month to boost ties with the Jewish state and this resulted in unspecified arms contracts whose value may reach at least nine figures. So it wasn’t unexpected for Israel’s largest military-industrial enterprises to crowd premium floorspace during ADAS 2018. Foremost were IAI, Elbit Systems, and Rafael and with the effectiveness of Israeli-made weapons during the struggle for Marawi, Tel Aviv’s military exports have a loyal patron in Duterte.

The extent of Saab’s designs in Southeast Asia aren’t pinned on a single country, however. As its business in North America takes care of itself, the Swedish arms manufacturer is carefully setting down roots in ASEAN. Aside from potential orders for its Gripen E multirole fighter from Malaysia and Thailand–whose air force already flies a squadron–Saab has a broader strategy in place for Indonesia with a series of low-key joint ventures helping government’s R&D programs that will enhance Jakarta’s state-owned military industries. This is on top of earlier successes with short-range SAMs and radars sold to the TNI, who now enjoy the highest annual budget in the region.

Of course, Saab is aware Indonesia aspires to build a powerful air force and navy, which is why it opened a Jakarta office five years ago with an overt mission to capture the local market. Hence the choice of bold wording for an announcement that read, “Saab is offering technology transfer and industrial cooperation to ensure in-country build-up of capabilities for support, modifications and further development.” What this means is Indonesia can establish a world-class manufacturing sector with Saab’s help.

Yet the most daring bet Saab is taking is a “deal of the century” for India’s next multirole fighter. With Delhi’s attempts to import three dozen French Rafales now mired in scandal, a leftover requirement of the Indian Air Force (IAF) is up for grabs. But this time, instead of separate tenders for a carrier-based fighter (a prerogative of the Indian Navy), a single engine fighter, and a new “heavy” strike fighter, the IAF just want 110 current-generation airframes to join its fleet as an in-between asset that complements the Su-30MKI and the upcoming HAL Tejas Mk.1A. So whether it’s ASEAN or India, Saab is prepared for the next quarter century of lucrative arms deals.

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