May 18, 2016 / 8:27 PM / 2 years ago

Saab upbeat on exports as it unveils new fighter jet

LINKOPING, Sweden, May 18 (Reuters) - Sweden’s Saab expressed optimism about fighter exports to nations including India as it unveiled a new version of its Gripen combat jet being developed for Sweden and Brazil.

The revamped Gripen E is one of five aircraft which has attracted Finland’s interest as it weighs an order for dozens of jets, according to industry executives.

Boeing’s F-18, Dassault Aviation’s Rafale, Lockheed Martin’s F-35 and the Eurofighter Typhoon, involving BAE Systems, may also be considered.

Saab said it is also monitoring possible fighter purchases in India, which some say could seek almost 100 warplanes once it completes a delayed order for 36 French Rafales.

“I think we have a very good opportunity in India. We can make an attractive offer that would suit the Indians with their Make in India concept,” Saab aeronautics head Ulf Nilsson said in an interview.

Sweden appears willing to meet India’s demands for a sweeping transfer of technology, echoing a deal to sell 28 Gripen Es and 8 twin-seater Gripen Fs to Brazil.

“The solution we did there ... could very well be suitable for India,” Nilsson told Reuters. He said Saab is talking to potential Indian partners, but declined to give details.

After years of indecision, some analysts believe India could seek both single-engine jets like the Gripen and Lockheed Martin F-16 and twin-engine aircraft like the Rafale or F-18.

That could give Gripen an edge against the older F-16, used by India’s arch-rival Pakistan, but diplomats warn the shape of any future contest is unclear and could take time.

The latest Gripen is designed to carry more weapons further, and to track multiple threats using the latest type of radar.

Saab unveiled the jet at its fighter plant to an audience of several hundred suppliers, media and customers on Wednesday.

“The Gripen E ensures that Gripen as a brand keeps going against the Rafale, Typhoon and F-35,” said Francis Tusa, editor of Defence Analysis.

Selling for about $85 million excluding arms, the Gripen E is slightly cheaper than Rafale or Typhoon and significantly cheaper than the single-engined F-35, which is marketed for stealth, he added.

Critics say the Gripen lacks the flexibility of twin-engined rivals or the same geopolitical support as U.S., French or pan-European alternatives.

The first aircraft will fly around end-year.

Saab said it would continue to invest in the older and cheaper Gripen C/D model to attract a different tier of buyers.

It aims to complete a deal to supply 8 jets to Slovakia soon and has its sights on others including Croatia and Bulgaria. (Reporting by Tim Hepher; editing by Adrian Croft)

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