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 First Red Flag exercise for Gripen

Article by Gripen International – Photos by Richard Ljungberg, Saab

The ability to ‘scramble’ fighter aircraft swiftly is critical when a threat appears, and the ability to get as many fighters as possible airborne is crucial.

2006/11/16 | A fighter turn around in less than 10 minutes, with the engines running, and an unparalleled availability rate are two of the main features of the Gripen fighter. This was proven once again during the Red Flag Alaska exercise staged this summer.

Seven Gripen new generation, multi role fighters from the Swedish Air Force, all of them delivered during 2006, flew half-way around the world to take part in Red Flag Alaska; that is a one way trip of more than 10 000 kilometers. At the Eilson Air Force Base in Alaska they meet up with combat aircraft from the US, Canadian and Japanese Air Forces.

During the eleven day exercise, Gripen flew 2 sorties a day with 4 aircraft. A total of 340 flight hours were logged, 150 of them ´on mission´. “We did all that with just 12 pilots and 35 maintenance technicians”, says Lt Colonel Ken Lindberg who was the Detachment Commander for the Swedish Air Force.

Due to Gripen’s multi-role capability, a mix of Offensive Counter Air/Close Air Support and Offensive Counter air/Air Interdiction missions were performed. In the air to ground attacks a total of 16 GBU-12 Laser Guided Bombs were dropped, together with 1000 rounds of ammunition fired from the Gripen’s internal Mauser 27 mm gun. Air-to air missiles were simulated, but more then 1 100 flares were launched as part of the whole Gripen EWS for missile defense.

Of the planned 225 missions for Gripen, four were cancelled because of bad weather and only one due to an equipment problem, an external pod. However, Colonel Lindberg confirmed that Gripen has the ability to drop Laser Guided Bombs carried on one Gripen aircraft, using laser designator pods fitted to another Gripen aircraft - this tactic was used to successfully confuse the “red team”. Forward Air Controllers (FAC) from both the Swedish and US Special Forces were also used to guide the LGB´s.

The very small radar cross section of Gripen was another problem for the ‘red team’ that included both air-to-air and surface-to-air threats. “We also confirmed that our warning and electronic warfare systems (EWS) are really, really good - it was almost impossible for the Red air force to get through our EW systems. We always knew where the air defense was, could avoid them and still do our work, even in very dynamic situations, with the threat getting more complex each day” said Colonel Lindberg.

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