Saab has completed the upgrade of the Czech Republic Gripen fleet to the MS20 standard. The upgrade “greatly increases Gripen’s combat and communication capabilities”, according to a Saab press release.
MS20 allows the Gripen to engage ground targets using unguided and laser-guided bombs. Meanwhile, air-to-air capability is improved via the introduction of new radar modes.
As part of the new software standard, the Czech Gripens will also undergo integration of the Rafael Litening III electro-optical targeting pod. The Israeli-made pod will be used for guiding missiles and bombs as well as for aerial reconnaissance and in air defence missions.
The MS20 upgrade also implements the Link 16 data link as well as cryptomodules for covert communication.
“Thanks to the modernisation of the Czech Gripen aircraft, the operational capabilities of the Czech Air Force will be significantly increased,” said Colonel Petr Tománek, commander of the Czech Air Force’s Čáslav air base. “Our staff has appreciated a close and fruitful co-operation with the Swedish side on this specific modernisation project as well as the co-operation during the 13 years that we have operated Gripen aircraft.”
The capability upgrade involves both hardware and software upgrades. On March 12 – the anniversary of the Czech Republic’s entry into NATO – the new software package was integrated into single- and two-seat versions of the Czech Gripen. After successful flight tests, the MS20 software was integrated into the remaining fighters.
“We are very pleased with the success of this capability upgrade,” said Jonas Hjelm, head of Saab business area Aeronautics. “We are honoured to have a long-term partner in the Czech Air Force. It is largely due to this long-term mutual co-operation between Swedish FMV, the Czech Air Force and Saab that the upgrade went smoothly and according to plan. We wish the pilots and the whole air force continued success in meeting their objectives both within their airspace protection operations and their joint NATO operations.”
The Czech Air Force – formally the Vzdušné síly Armády České republiky (Air Component of the Army of the Czech Republic) – received 12 single-seat JAS 39C Gripen Cs and a pair of two-seat JAS 39Ds, with deliveries beginning in April 2005.
In March 2014 the Czech government granted approval for a 12-year extension of the lease contract with Saab, under which all JAS 39C/D Gripens are operated, with an option taken to extend this for a further two years. This extension, reportedly valued at 16.5bn crowns ($841.4m), will take the lease through to 2027, or 2029 if the additional option is exercised. Saab announced in December 2014 that it had been awarded the contract for the lease extension.
The Czech Gripen fleet is operated by 211. Taktická Letka (211. TL, 211th Tactical Squadron) at Čáslav in eastern Bohemia.