June 9, 2015

Fighter Jet Fight Club: Typhoon vs. Gripen!

Let me get this right out of the way.  What we are looking at here are two of my favorite aircraft.  I am biased towards both of them.  I have always had a soft spot for delta-wing/canard designs and both fighters look like something I would have doodled in the margins of my elementary school notebook.  Now that I am a mature adult, my admiration has taken a more practical approach.  I have written extensively about both aircraft, both at Bestfighter4Canada's "prequel" site, Gripen4Canada and as a guest contributor to the Ottawa Citizen's Defense Watch.  I still believe that the Gripen NG is the best choice for Canada due to its performance/cost ratio.  I also believe that the Eurofighter Typhoon Tranche 3 is a great choice based on its performance alone.

For this installment of Clickbait Friday Fighter Jet Fight Club, I will attempt to put my love for these two aircraft aside in order to declare one of them superior.  Imagine Sophie's Choice, but with a cage match.  (Sorry.)

Remember the rules to Fighter Jet Fight Club:  Everything works as advertised for the year 2020 and costs do not matter.  Also remember that these aircraft are being compared to each other and scores from previous installments are not carried over.


Interdiction/Penetration:  Both aircraft have sophisticated EW/ECM suites and fairly small radar cross sections (RCS).  The both designs emphasize RCS reduction while the Gripen has the extra benefit of being a smaller aircraft.  Getting a true RCS for each aircraft is not likely without high level security clearance, so I said that the Gripen had the advantage here I would only be guessing.  
Since neither aircraft is truly stealth, and RCS increases with external weapon storage, I have to declare this one a draw.  Winner:  Tie

Deep Strike:  Similar ranges are found on both fighters.  Both aircraft also share similar weapon capability with either the Taurus KEPD 350 or Storm Shadow ALCM available.  The Gripen does not carry as much fuel, but it manages to squeeze more miles out of every gallon.
The Typhoon's ace in the hole here is the availability of conformal fuel tanks.  CFTs give the Typhoon a clear advantage by keeping some of the pylons empty for stealthiness, weapon storage, or performance.  They also allow the Typhoon to carry fuel in the CFTs and in drop tanks, greatly increasing its range.  Winner:  Typhoon 

Payload:  One of the Gripen biggest improvements with the "NG" variants is an increased payload capacity of 6 tonnes versus older Gripens payload of 5.3 tonnes.  While this is impressive for a small single-engined fighter, it comes up short compared to the larger, twin-engined Typhoon (7.5 tonnes).  
The Typhoon also has the advantage of additional hard points.  This advantage only increases further when you take the Eurofighter's CFTs into consideration.  Winner:  Typhoon

Close-air-support:  With nearly identical weapon selection, this category comes down to aircraft performance.  Which one is better flying low to the ground and slow enough to accurately find its targets?
Much like the Dassault Rafale, the Gripen uses a "close-coupled" canard design to improve lift while flying high AoA (angle of attack) maneuvers.  The Gripen's canards also act as lifting surfaces themselves.  Altogether, this gives the Gripen a slower stall speed and better handling at lower altitudes while the Typhoons smaller canard give it a faster instantaneous turn rate at the limit.  
The real kicker for the Gripen here is its ability to operate from austere conditions.  This not only gives it an advantage for logistics, but for close-air-support it allows the Gripen to be stationed closer to the action, giving it a clear advantage when every minute counts.  Winner:  Gripen
When it first went operational, the Typhoon had barely any ground attack ability to speak of.  The emphasis was placed on air-superiority first, with strike capability to be added later.  The Gripen has always had a more holistic approach to being a multirole fighter, with the "A" in JAS-39 signifying "Attack".  The Typhoon has come a long way however, and its sheer size advantage gives it a better payload ability, while its CFTs give it superior range options.  Air-to-Ground winner:  Eurofighter Typhoon.


First look/First kill:  If both aircraft are considered to have nearly equal RCS, and heat signature, then the aircraft with the better sensors wins this round.  This is not the case however.  The Gripen, when loaded for air-to-air (i.e. without a bunch of bombs and fuel tanks) almost definitely has a smaller RCS than the larger Typhoon.  It certainly has a smaller infrared signature, with the Typhoon propelled by two engines, each roughly equivalent to the Gripen's single.
While the Gripen might be slightly harder to detect, the Typhoon does have its own strength here.  Both aircraft will be equipped with an AESA radar with a novel "repositioner" allowing better coverage than a typical AESA radar.  The Eurofighter's CAPTOR-E stands out by having an additional 50% more T/R (transmit/receive) modules, about 1,500 to the 1,000 T/R modules of the Gripen's Selex Raven ES-05.  Both aircraft have similar IRST sensors.
While the Gripen may have a slightly smaller RCS and significantly smaller IR signature, it likely is not small enough to overcome the Eurofighter's massive radar advantage.  When it comes to "first-look, first kill" the aircraft with the better radar typically has the upper hand.  Advantage:  Typhoon
Beyond visual range:  Seeing a target first does not always guarantee a kill, especially when both aircraft are fitted with sophisticated RWR (radar warning receivers), ECM (electronic countermeasures) and decoys.  Both aircraft are about equal in this regard, equal enough that I am not inclined to declare one having the advantage over the other.
With its new GE414 engine, the Gripen NG closely matches the Typhoon.  Thrust-to-weight ratios are nearly the same, and both aircraft are capable of supercruise while carrying A2A weapons.  Speaking of weapons, both aircraft should be declared equal as well.  They are both capable of handling the MBDA Meteor as well as the AMRAAM with a two-way data link.  
Any beyond visual range match-up between the Gripen and Typhoon is almost certainly to be decided by the skill of the pilots.  Advantage:  Tie

Within Visual Range:  Again, both aircraft are frustratingly similar.  Both utilize IRST combined with HMD, as well as near identical WVR weapon capability including the IRIS-T, ASRAAM, or AIM-9 Sidewinder.  
The only real differences here more mechanical.  The Gripen has an advantage due to its smaller IR signature.  The Typhoon has a slight advantage with its instantaneous turn performance, allowing it to point its nose and weapons quicker.  Both aircraft have the ability to fire HOBS (high-offboresite) missiles, but it is far preferable to fire a missile that is pointing at the enemy at the time.  
Given the similarities, as well as equally good differences, this one is too close to call.  Advantage:  Tie

Dogfight:  Again, both aircraft are near equally matched.  Both aircraft sport the 27mm Mauser BK-27 revolver cannon, although the Gripen F might have to do without, as two-seat Gripens give up their sidearm to make room for the extra crew member.  The Typhoon carries 30 additional rounds.
The Gripen is a smaller target, however, and does boast of better performance at slower speeds and high angles of attack.  As long as the Gripen is a single-seat model, it will likely have a slight advantage.  Advantage:  Gripen...  As long as its a single-seat model. 
Winner, Air-to-Air:  The Gripen looks and acts like a mini-Typhoon is most regards.  Any advantages one has over the other is more due to differences in size.  Given that the Gripen has only one advantage (Dogfight), and that advantage is conditional, the winner here is the Typhoon.  


Versatility:  Specialization is for insects.  Both aircraft are capable "multi-role" fighters, competent at either air-superiority or strike roles.  Two-seat options are available for training or high-workload missions.  As such, they are capable of being a nation's only fighter aircraft.  Neither makes the pretense of needing another aircraft to fill any gaps in its capability.  
The Gripen goes a littler farther than the Typhoon in this regard, however.  It is obvious by its designation if you speak Swedish; JAS-39.  Jakt (Fighter) Attack (Attack) Spanning (Reconnaissance).   The Gripen also has its famous rough field capability, allowing it a forward operating capability superior to just about ever fighter short of a STOVL (and even then...)
The future may hold even more roles for the Gripen.  Saab and Boeing were rumored to use the Gripen as the basis for the T-X T-38 Talon replacement, although this has since been denied.  The Gripen's short airfield performance also makes a "Sea Gripen" variant quite possible.  With Brazil (the Gripen's latest costumer) needing a carrier capable fighter soon, the Sea Gripen is a very strong possibility.  Plans for a navalized Typhoon are shaky at best, especially considering that the UK's HMS Queen Elizabeth is set up strictly for STOVL fighters (like the F-35B) only.  Advantage:  Gripen

Logistics:  The Typhoon is the dominant fighter type of Europe.  Sales outside of Europe have been not forthcoming, however, with Saudi Arabia being Eurofighter's biggest non-European customer.  There have been problems with parts shortages, and the Typhoon is a complicated twin-engined fighter with supply lines originating from all over Europe.  
It is hard to imagine an fighter aircraft with a smaller logistical footprint than the Gripen.  Saab boasts about the fact that the Gripen requires only a handful of technicians to service between flight.  It also boasts that a deployment of ten Gripens can be supported by a single C-130 Hercules with plenty of room to spare.  The Saab wins this one hands down.  Advantage:  Gripen

Final Score:

Air-to-ground:  Typhoon: 3  -  Gripen:  2
Air-to-Air:  Typhoon: 3  -  Gripen:  3 (This score is 4-2 against the Gripen F)
Versatility/Logistics:  Typhoon: 0  -  Gripen 2

Final Score:  Typhoon: 6  -  Gripen:  7  (Or 7 - 6 if you compare two-seat versions)

Bigger is not always better.  What the Gripen gives up in payload it makes up for in versatility.  Despite being smaller than the Typhoon, it packs similar weapons and equipment.  Besides payload, the only real compromises made by the Gripen are radar size and the two-seater's cannon.  Not a bad deal, in the grand scheme of things.

For air-to-air or air-to-ground, the Typhoon is likely the better fighter.  But is it worth the extra cost?  The Gripen is slightly more versatile and easy to support.  Quite simply, it up for anything. 
 source : bestfighter4

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