Saab is in a campaign to sell its Gripen Fighter in Asiaand eastern Europe as Switzerland’s decision to delay a $1 billionfighter purchase.
Orders from Bulgaria, Romania and Slovakia and a follow-on contractfrom Thailand are “major near-term opportunities” for the Gripen, whichcompetes with models from Lockheed Martin Corp., Boeing Co., DassaultAviation SA and Eurofighter GmbH, Saab Aeronautics chief LennartSindahl said in an interview.
Switzerland will wait until 2015 before awarding a contract to replaceageing Northrop F-5 Tigers, its defense ministry said on Aug. 25,halting a tender regarded as key to the Gripen’s future by analystsincluding Teal Group’s Richard Aboulafia. Saab is still betting onorders from Brazil and India to save the flagship fighter as theproduction backlog shrinks, with Malaysia another prospect, HakanBuskhe, the company’s new chief executive officer, said in his firstinterview in the role.
“We were a little bit sad that the Swiss postponed, but there was atricky situation with the financing and I wasn’t totally surprised,”Sindahl said by telephone yesterday. “The good thing is that we haven’tlost the contract.”
Saab rose as much as 2 percent and was up 1.8 percent at 95.20 kronoras of 10:17 a.m. in Stockholm, where the company is based, paring thestock’s decline this year to 19 percent.
The Swedish manufacturer, which is competing with Dassault andEurofighter in Switzerland, requires new orders as work on 26 Gripensfor South Africa and an initial six planes for Thailand runs out in2012, with an upgraded version not due to enter service with Sweden’sair force until at least 2017.
Saab also needs export orders to establish the Gripen as the model ofchoice in former Soviet and non-aligned markets not dominated by Boeingand Lockheed Martin, which is grabbing contracts with its F-35Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter.
Saab’s ability to offer the Gripen with in-house radar technology isbeing pitched as an advantage over rival planes and helped it win theexisting Thai order, Sindahl said.
The Scandinavian company views Brazil’s requirement for 36 jets as alive competition even after President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silvaindicated last year that he favored the Dassault Rafale, Sindahl said,with no contract for the order yet signed.
In order to boost its chances of winning the $1.8 billion deal Saab hasoffered to establish joint manufacturing of the Gripen in Brazil, whichcurrently operates Dassault’s Mirage.
“Every day that nothing new comes from Brazil I think we have gained alittle bit,” Sindahl said. “The longer it takes, the more discussionsthere are and the more they start realizing how good the offer is bothwith respect to the product and also to the package for Brazilianindustry.”
South America’s biggest economy is unlikely to choose between theGripen, Rafale and Boeing Co. F/A-18 Super Hornet before a presidentialelection in October, the executive said.
India may announce the preferred supplier for a 126-planerequirement by the end of this year after scrapping an April 27deadline to select a replacement for Russian-built MiG jets dating tothe 1970s, Sindahl said.
The $10 billion order is the world’s biggest fighter-jet purchase in 15years and has attracted bids from Lockheed, Boeing, Dassault,Eurofighter and Russia’s United Aircraft Corp.
Saab hasn’t given up on winning Dutch and Danish orders for the Gripen,CEO Buskhe said at the company’s Stockholm offices yesterday. TheNetherlands has selected Lockheed’s F-35 as its preferred candidate andlike Denmark is one of eight partner countries with the U.S. indeveloping the plane.