Saturday, August 13, 2022

‘Gripens For Free’: Challenging F-35s, Sweden Offers Its Saab Fighter Jets To Czech Republic At ‘Virtually Zero Cost’

The Swedish ambassador to the Czech Republic, Fredrik Jörgensen, revealed in an interview with Seznam Zprávy, a Czech internet news website, that Sweden is ready to offer the Czech Republic a free transfer of Gripens that it leased from Stockholm. 

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The Czech media outlet quotes Fredrik Jörgensen as saying, “It is possible to transfer these currently leased aircraft to the Czech Republic at virtually zero cost. They’ve already been paid; it’s like a leased car.” 

“We would consider them paid off, and on this basis, we could extend the cooperation system to include C series Gripens or E series Gripens,” he added. 

The news comes as the government of the Czech Republic is considering purchasing 24 fighters as the lease for the Gripens expires in 2027. The report noted that the US-made F-35 stealth fighter jet is the leading contender for this contract. 

Czech Gripen_100years_Evert_Keijzer_Ironbird_Photography_4.jpg
Saab Gripen

The government may act upon this issue in July. “The government should probably deal with the future of supersonic aviation in July. It will be a political decision based on the expert recommendation of the army, which is assessing possible options,” Defense Minister Jana Černochová (ODS) told Seznam Zprávy. 

The Czech Republic has made it clear that it does not want fighter jets in the form of a lease and instead intends to purchase 24 fighters or two squadrons. The minister is, however, hesitant to declare her current preference for a particular side. The Americans are in a stronger negotiating position, claims Seznam Zprávy. 

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Several sources, including Seznam Zprávy, have reported that the current administration plans to purchase American fighter jets. However, the report said that the Swedes are not giving up and will continue to lobby the Czech Republic for the purchase of their Gripens until the very last minute.  

Hungarian Gripen
File Image: Jas-39 Gripen Jets

Sweden Makes A Better Offer?

By offering to take over the current squadron of Gripens, the Swedish government is seeking to sway the Czech government’s plans in its favor at the last minute. 

The Swedish ambassador emphasized that Saab, a Swedish manufacturer, can deliver warplanes more quickly. Additionally, he believes that Prague will not have to modify the existing infrastructure for the new aircraft. 

Saab is offering the new E-series Gripens to Prague. In addition to being one of the best warplanes in the world, the new E-series Gripens are also very affordable, the ambassador said. 

In 2004, the Czech Republic signed a contract to lease 12 Gripen C/D fighter aircraft from Sweden in the single-seat version and two in the two-seat version. The lease will expire in 2027 and can be extended for another two years. Stockholm is again attempting to entice Czechs to consider buying their warplanes.

“The planes are currently being rented. Therefore, we would consider them repaid, and we could leave them in the Czech Republic for free. These are fourteen Gripen C/D machines currently used by the Air Force of the Army of the Czech Republic, which could undergo significant modernization. In the future, we could extend the cooperation to include E-series Gripens,” the Swedish Embassy told iDNES.cz.

F-35 engine
File Image: F-35

Duan Rovensk, a military analyst, concurs that the Czech army would have an easier time switching to newer Gripens. “If the Czech Republic decided to purchase Gripens, it would simplify training and logistical support. Pilots of current C/D Gripens would undoubtedly retrain to E/F Gripens much faster than a completely new aircraft type.” 

“Similarly, new means of ground security would not have to be purchased, but the current ones would suffice. Both of these things would undoubtedly reduce the purchase price of the new Gripens,” says Rovensky.

Nonetheless, the Swedish aircraft manufacturer has already lost the bid for 64 Finnish aircraft to the F-35 stealth fighter jet in December 2021 and undoubtedly does not want to experience a similar situation in the case of Prague.

Czechs Stance 

“The Ministry of Defense does not have an offer from Sweden, which the Czech Republic wants to offer for the free transfer of the currently used Gripen fighter aircraft,” the Czech side responded. Similarly, Defense Minister Jana Ernochová (ODS), currently attending the NATO summit, says she is unaware of the offer.

“This is completely new information for me. Here at the Madrid Summit, the Swedish side did not tell us anything about that effect, nor did it imply anything. Therefore, I can only comment on a possible offer after I receive it officially and get acquainted with its details,” she said.

Meanwhile, many Czech politicians also support the acquisition of American fighter jets. For instance, Jan Bartoek (KDU-SL), the deputy speaker of the chamber of deputies, has a liking for American combatants. He believes it is favorable that the government will make a timely decision regarding the purchase.

“Yes, let’s get the best on the market for our army. The platform makes sense to me because many neighboring countries will have it,” refers to the fact that many European nations, including Finland and Poland, have ordered American fighter jets. 

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