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Saab Staking on Boeing's Trainer to Boost Gripen Sales

© AP Photo / Jeff RobersonBoeing's T-X aircraft is shown during an event to reveal the proposed trainer Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2016, in St. Louis
Boeing's T-X aircraft is shown during an event to reveal the proposed trainer Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2016, in St. Louis - Sputnik International
Sweden's largest aircraft manufacturer Saab, which has in recent years been struggling against the current, has recently unveiled its new trainer aircraft, which the company leadership hopes will provide a welcome boost to its ailing exports.

A Saab JAS 39 Gripen fighter jet - Sputnik International
New Saab Fighter Jet Gives Swedish Defense Unexpected Headache
Earlier this week, Saab and its partner Boeing took the wraps off their T-X military training jet in Saint Louis, Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter reported. They hope the single-engine two-seat aircraft will be able to replace the US Air Force's ageing fleet of T-38 trainer jets and meet the growing demand for future pilots capable of flying fifth-generation fighters. Recently, Sweden's Air Force itself experienced trouble in that the trainer planes it currently has in use have become far too obsolete to provide for the instruction of future Gripen pilots.

Consequently, Saab, which previously suffered a row of painful setbacks when trying to sell its fifth-generation Gripen E jets across the globe, is now pinning its hopes on the T-X becoming a fixture in the US Air Force, which would obviously serve as its best advertisement in large parts of the world. The T-X is a "blank sheet" aircraft, specifically designed to meet US Air Force requirements for the F-22 Raptor and the F-35 Lightning. According to Boeing, the design is inexpensive, flexible and easily upgradeable. Remarkably, its twin tails were derived from Saab's Gripen and offer greater maneuverability and a higher attack angle.

​If successful, the T-X is expected to enter service in 2024 and replace the US Air Force's fleet of 400 T-38 aircraft, which have been in service for over half a century. Since a minimum order of 350 aircraft is anticipated, the major contract, worth 11 billion dollars, has attracted other major players as well. The Boeing-Saab duo is facing harsh competition from Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Alenia Aermacchi and Textron AirLand.

​With regards to the stalling Gripen sales, Sweden is betting on its neighbor Finland, which is currently rolling out its new fleet update program and is seriously considering comparatively cheap and easy-to-operate Saab as an option.

Norway's Defense Minister Ine Marie Eriksen Søreide walks past an honor guard as he arrives to attend a meeting of defense ministers of the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, July 20, 2016 - Sputnik International
Price Wars: Norway's Defense Minister Under Fire Over Costly F-35 Fighter Jets
​As Finland's current fleet of 62 F-18 aircraft gets older with every passing year, the country's air force is seeking a replacement. The whole deal is estimated to be worth about $8 billion, and the Finnish military and politicians are looking at five different options, namely Saab's Gripen, Lockheed Martin's F-35, Boeing's F-18 Super Hornet, the Eurofighter Typhoon and Dassault's Rafale. Saab's competitive edge is, first and foremost, its price.

"A small nation like Finland needs to be able to afford to both purchasing and actually flying its jets. You do not buy something you can ill afford to use. But above all, it is important to have a plan that is capable of doing the job," Kim Jäämeri, the head of Finland's air force, told Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet.

Another competitive advantage of the Gripen is that Sweden and Finland traditionally maintain a very high level of cooperation. It could be further facilitated if the two countries used the same fighter jet. According to circulating rumors, the Gripen and the F-35 are the two hottest candidates. The F-35 is scheduled for use in the US and by a number of its allies, including Norway.

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