Claims by Bulgarian former defence minister Boiko Noev in a June 28 television interview, including that there was scant demand for Gripens and that the fighter jet was going out of production, were misleading and factually incorrect, the Saab company said in a statement.
Noev, who was defence minister in 1994/95 and again in 1999/2001, said in a widely-reported interview with television station bTV that Gripens were ceasing to be produced, and there were only 250, indicating a lack of interest among other countries in acquiring them.
His comments came on the day that amid a complex political row, GERB, the majority partner in government, got sufficient support in Parliament for the establishment of an ad hoc committee to examine the jet fighter acquisition process so far.
The GERB move is directed in part against President Roumen Radev, former commander of the Air Force, with party parliamentary leader Tsvetan Tsvetanov alleging that Radev had meddled in the process that saw Gripen ranked as the best option for the Bulgarian Air Force.
Daniel Boestad, vice-president for Gripen in Central and Eastern Europe, said that the Saab Gripen C/D is the most modern fighter aircraft in operational service today.
“It is not true that the production of the Gripen C/D will cease. Saab has the production capacity to meet customer demands for both the Gripen C and E.”
Saab has in place a well-developed and well-funded Gripen production programme, the statement said.
“Saab is currently building new Gripen E aircraft for the air forces of Sweden and Brazil, and will build new Gripen C/D aircraft for the many countries that are actively considering the aircraft.
“Gripen C/D and E versions are currently being marketed to, and being considered by a number of European, Asian, Latin American and African countries. Indeed, there has never been so much interest in Gripen,” Saab said.
One reason why so many countries are interested in the Gripen is that many air forces are now in the process of replacing their fleets of 30-40 year-old aircraft, be they MiG 21s, MiG29s, or F-16s.
In Bulgaria, Gripen C/D was placed first by the independent expert committee that considered three proposals for aircraft, the statement said.
“Negotiations between Sweden and Bulgaria are expected to open in the near future. Saab will build new Gripen C/D aircraft for Bulgaria, and will deliver the first aircraft within 18 months of contract signature.”
Gripen is fully Nato-interoperable and is in operational service with Bulgaria’s Nato allies, the Czech Republic and Hungary, the statement said.
“Indeed, Czech and Hungarian Gripen C/Ds have fulfilled numerous Nato air policing roles to the Baltic States and Iceland. And earlier this month, Czech Air Force Gripen C/Ds participated with tremendous success in the prestigious Nato Tiger combat training exercise in France.”
The delivery of Gripen C/Ds to both the Czech Republic and Hungary were under government-to-government long-term lease and lease-to-buy contracts, Boestad said.