The reason that the JAS 39E may earn “sixth generation” tag is that it has been designed with these issues in mind. Software comes first: the new hardware runs the latest Mission System 21 software, the latest roughly-biennial release in the series that started with the earlier, A and B models of the aircraft.
Long life requires adaptability, both across missions and through-life. The Gripen was designed as a small aircraft with a relatively large payload. And by porting most of the software to the new version, the idea is that all of the C and D models’ weapons and capabilities, and then some, are ready to go on the E.
The Swedes have invested in state-of-the-art sensors, including what may be the first in-service electronic warfare system using gallium nitride technology. It’s significant that a lot of space is devoted to the system used to pick out friendly from hostile aircraft; a good IFF (“identification friend-or-foe”) system is most important in a confused situation where civilian, friendly, neutral, questionable and hostile actors are sharing the same airspace.
The first Gripen E is to be unveiled in the coming week on May 18th.
It’s supposed to have “anti-stealth” radar (of course if anti-stealth radar becomes standard it makes “stealth” obsolete). Which means that “deep stealth” will have to be developed next and when that can be detected, the defence industry – like physicists – will have to go looking for “dark stealth”.
But it looks good.