- Small Sweden has succeeded in producing a fighter that can compete with any in the export market.
- JAS 39 The Gripen has come to function as the modern mainstay of a number of second-class airplanes.
Of all the flight giants, Sveriges Saab AB has followed the perhaps least probable path.
At a time when modern fighter jets are typically designed by a consortium of companies from a variety of states, little Sweden has managed to manufacture a fighter jet that can compete with anyone in the export market. The JAS 39 Gripen is now serving in half a dozen air force and is still competitive in bidding to serve in another dozen.
How did “Griffen”, named after the Saab logo, come about?
Gripen began its life in 1979, as a result of a Swedish government decision to develop a domestic replacement for the jet fighter plan Draken och Viggen. Sweden was one of the smallest countries in the world to maintain an aviation industry that was sophisticated enough to develop an advanced jet fighter, and Gripen contributed to the industry remaining in good health.
Gripen emerged after the spread of the great fourth generation fighters (F-14, F-15, F-16, F / A-18, MiG-29, Su-27) and could apply lessons learned from the development and acquisition of these aircraft. Sweden secretly avoided collusion due to concerns about costs and focused on building an aircraft that customers with a modest budget could afford.
The plane first flew in December 1988 and achieved initial operational status in 1996. To date, 306 Gripens have been built, with a total of 10 lost due to accidents of various kinds. A couple of accidents early in Gripen’s development threatened the program, but the fighter managed to survive these bumps.
Gripen’s main notable features are its small size and low cost compared to other 4+ generation fighters on the market. Although flygaway costs are always complicated to calculate, the Gripen seems to come in at less than $ 60 million. In addition, Jane’s has reported that Gripen has the lowest operating cost of all modern fighter jets.
The grip has one reputation for being pilot friendly, with easy-to-understand displays and a relatively uncomplicated interface. When it comes to mortality, Gripen was the first fighter in the world to bear the mortals Meteor air-to-air missile, a weapon out of visual range (BVR) that can track and kill targets at a range of up to 80 miles. Gripen C can carry four Meteor missiles, while Gripen E can carry seven.
In terms of specifications, the Gripen E has a maximum take-off weight of 16,500 kg, a speed for Mach 2 with supercruise capability and a range of 1,500 km. The Gripen does well on lists above both BVR and dogfighting combatants.
Saab has exported the Gripen to Hungary, the Czech Republic, Thailand, Brazil and South Africa. The bids remain alive, with varying degrees of health, with Finland, Canada, Botswana, Columbia, Croatia, India, Indonesia and the Philippines, with a dozen more countries expressing some interest.
Saab has been relatively open with technology transfer and has facilitated the inclusion of local companies in the manufacture of certain components. This has made the Gripen an attractive option for governments struggling to explain their defense spending to the skeptical public.
In particular, the UK has an effective veto on Gripen exports due to the involvement of BAE systems. This has prevented Argentina from acquiring the aircraft.
With that said, some have claimed that the Gripen has succeeded for reasons other than its basic quality. Various allegations of bribery have been filed against Saab over the years, although few successful prosecutions have resulted.
In Brazil, the acquisition of Gripen led to significant allegations of fraud against then-President Lula da Silva. The accusations involved a side payment to Lula’s son. The matter has not yet been fully resolved.
In the case of Switzerland, Gripen somehow went against the ongoing lawsuit against right-wing provocateur Julian Assange, as his supporters were mobilized around the opposition against a referendum that would have allowed the Swiss Air Force to buy 22 fighter jets. And in Austria and the Czech Republic, investigations of bribes created a scandal for a country that is normally proud of openness.
As the list above suggests, the Gripen production line remains alive and vital. Bill Sweetman referred to the Gripen as “fighters’ future” due to its reasonable cost, significant capacity and easy upgrade.
The “software first” method has made upgrades simple and affordable compared to the rest of the market, where improvements are notoriously expensive.
Above all, the Gripen E should remain an effective air defense platform for a very long time, despite improvements in stealth technology among Saab’s competitors.
Saab has also shown a willingness to adapt to customer requirements, even playing with the idea of a portable Gripen when it seemed that India and Brazil could be interested in such a variant.
Jas 39 Gripen: What next?
No Gripen has yet engaged in combat, either against air or ground targets. Instead, the Gripen has come to serve as the modern pillar of a number of second-level air forces, offering a cheap but effective alternative for countries that do not expect to engage in serious conflicts.
Still, the Gripen’s impressive capabilities should serve the Air Force well if they ever get entangled in a conflict. The low cost and easy maintenance indicate that when it’s time, the Gripen will be ready to fight.
Robert Farley is a senior lecturer at the University of Kentucky.