Saab's New Fighter Jet Has Big Potential After Landmark Brazil Deal 

Saab's JAS-39 Gripen is expected to be one of the largest exports for the Swedish defense industry, financially. Bloomberg has just reported a lot of interest has been sparked since the first flight test of the Gripen last month that is destined for Brazil.

Saab is going up against rival defense firms from Boeing Co., Lockheed Martin Corp., Eurofighter, and France's Dassault Aviation S.A. in the global fighter jet market, but already has the potential to receive 400 to 500 Gripen orders over the next decade and a half thanks to strong sales from a batch of current tenders, which would account for 10% of the global fighter jet market. If all works out, this could mean Saab is catapulted into a major player overnight.

Aeronautics chief Jonas Hjelm told Bloomberg in a telephone interview that the selection last year of Boeing/Saab T-X fighter jet for U.S. training purposes has already boosted the Scandinavian company's image.

Hjelm said there are several contests to win bids that could result in orders. The first contest is a bid for 64 fighters from Finland, a Canadian tender for 88 jets, possibly a deal with Croatia to replace outdated Mikoyan MiG-21s, and a possible agreement with Colombia. He said the Brazil contract would be used as a template to win future business. He also believes the fighter jet could be a huge success in Latin America.

"To win in Brazil was huge," Hjelm said by telephone. "It really puts us on the world map. The T-X is also a huge thing. The Brazilian air force and the U.S. air force, they don't choose a product that's not a good product. It's a recognition, and I think we'll benefit overall."

Among the potential Gripen deals, Hjelm said a $12.2 billion bid for a fighter jet contract with Finland is on "top of the list" to secure, with a flight demonstration test slated for next year and a preferred bidder selected by early 2021.

Saab, along with Boeing and Lockheed Martin are expected to submit their bids for the Canadian tender early next year. And the contest to supply Croatia was reopened after the country wasn't able to source Lockheed Martin F-16s from Israel.

Hjelm said Saab has a good chance of winning the bid for Colombia next year or in 2021. He said the South American country's aerospace industry is advanced enough to handle the jet. The already 36 Gripen deal with Brazil has taken notice by other neighboring countries.

The fourth Gripen plane built in series production flew on Aug. 26 and will be presented to Brazil on Tuesday. Flight tests are continuing in Sweden throughout 2H19.

With production already started and deals starting to flow in, Saab is expecting the plane could gain more global traction, that means even from countries in the Middle East and parts of Asia.

Other possible Gripen buyers include Austria, the Philippines, and India, could amount to over 100 planes in the next several years. Hjelm said about 60 of the jets have already been sold to Sweden.

With global momentum gaining for the Gripen, it seems that Saab is tapping into a niche fighter jet market, offering low-cost jets with advanced technologies to tier 2 and 3 countries.