HX-program is still on the works, and so are the speculaations of “what should we pick” is in its infant stages. In order to get some kind of an idea how Eurofighter Typhoon, SAAB Gripen and Dassault Rafale compare among themselves I have been doing a bit of reading: Obviously these planes have not gone head to head in anger, but in practice. Lastly in Tigermeet 2016, but the have taken part in same campaign: Libya 2011. In Libya 5 years ago only Rafale was “quite ready” platform. (Typhoon is still a bit of a development progress, and Gripen was C/D configuration, so not yet the E/F that Finland is considering in HX-program.) But obviously all three eurocanards are being developed constantly. Also obviously everything written here is to be taken with a quite a bit of salt. I am reading official sanitized reports.
Also one has to keep in mins, that even though all aforementioned fighters are multi(or swing- or omni)role, they have been optimized for one thing: Eurofighter as an air superiority fighter from land-bases, Rafale as a carrier capable strike fighter and Gripen as cost-effective light fighter. So each and all can do all the things, but they can do some aspects of task a bit better than the competition.
Only distinct difference is in IRST modules of the planes: Gripen and Typhoon use newer FLIR IR array that giver them a better resolution compared to Rafale’s FSO system, BUT Rafales is upgrading to FSO II system, that will have precisely the same array and capabilities (IF there is not significant size difference in optics side of things). Laws of physics are the same for all.
But As I mentioned I have done some reading in Libyan air war of 2011 (brits call it operation Ellamy, the French call it Harmattan, and Swedes might call it something else, but I dont know what.) The Typhoon and Rafale have of course since taken part in operations in Syria, Iraq, Afganistan and Mali. So one can expect them to perform quite adequately in combat.
All mentioned planes gave good combat performance, but as their usages were quite different, it is impossible to say which might be the “best” plane of them. Gripen did mostly tactical recce, Typhoon mostly flew Combat air patrol, and Rafale did a lot of strikes, with other duties thrown in.
RAND report gives a nice rundown of the campaigns. You can download a full report there, but as my main concern are performance of named fighters, it is not completely useful for this purpose, but is an enlightening read never the less. If you want a quick version HERE is wikipedia’s version of it.
French operation (Harmattan) did not conclusively prove that Rafale can survive in hostile airspace without of support of SEAD/DEAD platforms. This is not true: Italy’s Tornados and US F-16CJs DID SEAD in the early part of campaign as dedicated NATO SEAD platform. (The allies wanted to play it safe, and assumed that Libya had competent and functioning integrated air defense system. This was not the case) I do not doubt that Spectra is a good system, but I just cannot believe that it can singlehandedly do away an integrated air defense system. Even though Rafale flew DEAD missions in Libya, but against maybe fourth stringers, or their backups, still gives serious doubt about the capabilities of SPECTRA against 1st string integrated air defense system. I feel dedicated SEAD/DEAD platform needs to exist for Rafale as well. This is not Mali, this is Finland.
I have collected some hard data on three eurocanards and F/A-18 E as a bit of a comparison. Some info about JAS-39 E is not yet available. These are marked with ? and + usually meaning that the figures are in that neighborhood, and somewhat above that (as the data was taken from C/D model Gripen) What is interesting to see is how well the numbers reflect the are of the optimization for each respective plane: Awesome load for strike-fighter optimized Rafale, Excellent speed, power to weight ratio and service ceiling for Air superiority fighter oriented Typhoon, and price and takeoff and landing runway lengths for dispersion specialist JAS-39 Gripen. One hast to mention the fact that Rafales need for runway is mere 450m, without using braking chute. and Armee del Air has operated in rather austere facilities in Mali and thereabouts. So Rafale is indeed the Gripen’s worst competition (in IMHO) in HX program.
@gripennews pointed out to me, that in Brasilian evaluation they had give both Gripen’s and Rafale’s air-to-air range as 1700km. I’ll update it here. But I would like to point out that as 1.9.2016 I do not know that Gripen E has flown, so there still is a lot of speculation going about. We’ll see in year or two.
The speed and ceiling advantage is significant, as greater speed at launch and greater launch height allow missiles to be fired much further out, giving who ever is higher a clear advantage in missile performance.Approximately 50% going from 15km to 19km. If missile has range of say 100km in 15km, it should have a range of about 150km in 19km. (Of course you STILL have to pick out the enemy in 150km and be able to target it, to get full benefit.) And as the announced ranges, maybe it is more accurate to say that the range drops from. Buyers beware and all that. Ceiling is the same for Rafale and Gripen, Gripen is a bit speedier of the two, so it should hold a slight advantage in missile range (missiles will be, at least in a couple of years, the same, Meteor, for all three).
Rafale will carry awfully lot of luggage. Her engines are the “weakest” on max military power, but this on the other hand causes them to be coolest of the lot, this means they are harder to pick with IRST, and Rafales power to weight ratio is still excellent. (in clean configuration all eurocanards enjoy P/W ratio of over one, but after they are loaded the figure drops under 1 a bit.) Rafale has a new wing in the planning to reduce drag, so we may well see better speed with maybe a bit less carrying capacity in HX-fighters
SAAB Gripen is visioned as the cheapest of the lot, and it certainly has the lowest operating cost. One engine just uses half of the juice of two. Turbines are funny in the way they use about the same amount of gas idling than in full tilt. So you don’t get benefit of running two engines “in idle” compared to one in full revs. Also comparing the capabilities of eurocanards, the difference between expensive and cheap aircraft is not very great. Comparing the leading edge of the tech to 5 years old in capabilities say in computing are pretty much nothing today: electricity in copper wire can not go any faster than it does. Gone are the days when computing power doubled every 18 months. That is why now a days only way to speed up the processing is to build an array of processors or computers. Two processors in computer means it is about 1,5 times faster than one similar processor on its own. Everybody knows how to do this, so 3 times more pricey might mean just 50% of more power. And considering that we are talking about systems that there is a human in the loop, you just cannot go faster than a human can react. (yes, there are automated systems in planes and flying, but combat drones are still about 10-20 years away in west).
One football coach used to say that there is safety in numbers, and Napoleon put it that the God is on side of greater battalions, meaning that one superior fighter will get defeated by more numerous inferior fighters. So even though four a bit lesser fighters cost as much to buy and operate than two great fighters, they will still most likely be victorious against the great fighters if other elements are about the same.
Typhoon is the plane of choice for Air to Air war: outstanding sensor suite, speed and ceiling in abundance reasonable carrying capacity and excellent combat range in AA configuration. It may just be the weakest in air to ground role. It has the carrying capacity, but her capabilities are just now maturing. Typhoon HAS dropped bombs in anger, but in Irak, so the survivability in top notch air defense system is still a question mark.
These planes are expected to fly in Finnish atmospheric conditions, so presence of moisture will be a very limiting factor of what the fighter systems CAN detect in first place, so networking capabilities of the fighters are more important that capabilities of their own systems alone. And all these fighters have at least the standard NATO-16 data links.