SAAB Pulls Out of Belgian AF F-16 Replacement

This blew me away. I always figured the Gripen to be the low cost option for fighter aircraft, something our budget conscious European brethren valued. Not only that, Boeing yanked the Super Hornet as well, leaving only the Eurofighter, the JSF, and the Rafale.

Maybe some of our EU members can clarify what’s going here.


If you’re a pragmatist: Generally the dilemma you have now is do you invest in a budget* Gen 4±!!++ Fighter and have a capable fighter now, or invest in Lockheed and have a Gen 5 fighter slightly later? From what I’ve found** you’re looking at $85 Million for an F-35A, $70 Million for an F/A-18E/F Block 3, ~$102 Million for an EF Typhoon, and ~$75 Million for a Rafale. I can’t find a quote for the JAS-39E/F; Brazil just threw down $5.44 B(raz)illion*** for 36 of them, which works out to $151 Million / Aircraft, but there’s no way that’s correct. My SWAG would be somewhere between $70 and $90 Million unit cost.

So if you’re SAAB, and you’re looking at a long time Lockheed customer, in a military alliance with a number of other nations that are committed to buying a Lockheed product that’s on paper more capable **** and you can’t drastically undercut their price, it’s probably looking time to leave.

* Anytime now Lockheed…
** Don’t trust these numbers, I don’t.
*** hue hue hue… I’ll leave. (no I won’t).
**** That’s right, I said it. Fight me Sverige & @Fridge

If you’re a pessimist: Shady Lockheed being Shady

Saab is the second major aerospace company to pull out of the competition. Boeing withdrew the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet from the running in April, decrying Belgium’s requirements as unfairly slanted toward the F-35. (Note Boeing used the same excuse in the Danish bid -NB)

If you’re an Optimist:


Well, they might have gotten wind of something within the Belgian ranks.
As sexy as the Gripen can be maybe it doesn’t present itself as something as “expandable” as the Eurofighter.
I know there are already “next-gen” version of the EFA waiting to be paid for.
But I AM biased.

I should read what other people write and turn on the brain before writing anything down.
Sorry, disregard my post.

I’ll keep it here for future reference.

@near_blind Those numbers for Brazil might be correct, but Saab is extremely santa-claus-y when it comes to training, maintenance and parts. So it’s likely that that figure covers many years of parts and maintenance/training up front.

Hard to get any realistic figure though without knowing the exact way the deal has been drawn up.

1 Like

Pfft. You’re not incorrect. The Gripen is a low-cost fighter with all the capability that you need whereas the JSF is the sexy all-in package that you lust for.

My guess is that both Boeing and SAAB saw something in the contract that has them balking (obviously), some risk or other that they either do not want to be responsible for or are not desperate enough to assume for the sake of a sale - which must be saying something as I am sure SAAB would love another Gripen sale given that the Gripen is likely the most undersold fighter with on-par capabilities for most requirements.


See, this was my thought. The Gripen is an extremely capable fighter and at a flyaway unit cost (alone) of $60M (EUR), it is best bang for the buck. I cannot fathom why it is not selling like crazy.

Heck, if the Belgians really want to save some coin, they could always offer to buy the RSAF Gripens currently in storage.

My guess is that SAAB decided that the contract was weighted in favor of the F-35 and it wasn’t worth the money to fight a losing battle.

The Netherlands considered the Grippen for real, the F-35 contract was about to be signed permanently with a second prototype and cost overrun was through the roof. So a 2nd chamber commission was looking at the bid to see what could be changed.

In the end even the Chinese tried to woo the politicians by letting them have a wander around their fancy fighters. Although I think the SAAB deal was definitely a good bang for the buck. One to one replacement for the F-16 fleet including all the training and maintenance needs supplied for for a single price. As far as we know, that’s what was publicly announced about the deal.

With the F-35 a part of the production is happening in The Netherlands(some composite parts at Fokker IIRC), but not as much as with the F-16, which was largely build in The Netherlands at the Fokker line in the 80’.

It is neigh impossible to find useful information for a discussion on these things though, since everything comes down to “well, what was the contract about then?”… alas!

But I’ll be damned if it ain’t a sexy sexy plane!


A couple of things.

One, fighters don’t get bought to last for a decade or two anymore. We’re keeping planes from the 50s in service for years to come yet, planes from the 60s are still front-line combat, and fighters designed in the 70s and built in the 80s aren’t going anywhere for decades yet.
The Gripen is an 80s design, updated yes, but still it’s probably on a par with the latest F-16 variant.
The F-35 was designed in the 90s but didn’t fly till the 21st century. It’s the latest new Western plane. If you’re planning on keeping a fighter until 2050+, I personally don’t think a Gripen or Falcon or Hornet is the best idea unless you have a need for a reserve force to be used in a low-threat environment or in case of emergencies.
Few nations outside the biggest like the US, Russia, and China can afford that.

So you need to think about where your fleet will be as far as capability and vulnerability when your grandchildren and possibly THEIR children may be flying them into combat. When 6th gen fighters from the aforementioned big 3 are on the front lines, with 5th gen supporting them, just how effective will 4th gen still be?

Two, the requirements could have certain buzzwords in there like stealth or sensor fusion that only late 4th or 5th gen aircraft can even hope to meet. Remember when Airbus dropped out of the tanker competition because they claimed it was written to rank their tanker and Boeing’s almost the same in capability (no extra points given for carrying more farther) while cost was also ranked highly and there was no way a 330 could match a 767 in price given the size disparity. So since they didn’t have a 767-sized plane to base a tanker on, and the reqs seemed written to favor a plane of that size, they bailed.
You can try and protest to the gov’t (outside the military) that the reqs were written in such a way that no competition was possible, but who knows if that would work anyway?

1 Like

This is an excellent point, and one well worth keeping in mind.

The flip side of the coin is that it effectively blocks out potential advancements in 2050+ that could make a 5th gen aircraft rapidly obsolete; spending a ton of money now for a 5th gen fighter without having all the bugs worked out of it could be a very expensive endeavor. This has to be tempered by logically going over what’s needed and required right now, not 50 years in the future. What are the Belgians going to use it for? What do they currently need? Would they be better off buying a cheaper 4th gen now, then following up with incremental upgrades until a replacement can be sourced in the future, when 5th – and 6th – generation aircraft are ready to be fielded?

There’s a saying that I think many air forces in the world should keep in mind when it comes to the latest toy they whine and cry and scream for: perfect is the enemy of good enough. A perfect solution in the future does no good when you need a good enough solution now.