Over the recent course of history, there is little doubt that the United States has been the pioneer in exporting the finest range of fighter aircraft on the planet, with manufacturers like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Northrop Grumman blending innovative aerodynamic designs with futuristic features in combat warplanes.
However, barring few nations not everyone has the financial capacity to bring in fifth-generation fighters like that of the F-35s and the F-22 Raptors, with their option only being settling for a fighter jet which fits the pockets and gives them an attacking prowess which they need in the air.
Saab’s JAS-39 “Gripen” is that fighter.
The Gripen fighters are considered to be the Swedish Defense industry’s largest export in financial terms, with the fighters having an immense success rate in replacing aging fighter fleets of former Warsaw Pact countries as well have also been sold in the Americas, Africa, and Asia.
Defense Writer, Charlie Gao, while writing for the National Interest, highlights how the affordability of the Gripens acts in their favor for post-Soviet states.
“The primary European export success for the Gripen is in post-Soviet states. This is probably due to the accession of these states into NATO and the subsequent need to field “NATO compatible” aircraft at an affordable price,”
Other European nations either field their own modern jets like the Eurofighter Typhoon, or procured American aircraft such as the F-16 prior to the fall of the Warsaw Pact, and thus are not really in need of a new jet (although the Gripen NG might fill a niche here).”
Most post-Soviet states including the likes of Poland, Hungary, Czechia, Slovakia, and Bulgaria have operated the fourth-generation MiG-29s, however, due to the Russian fighter becoming obsolete quickly due to the advent of other modern fighters there was an urgent need for replacements.
The first ones out of these to find a ready replacement for the MiG-29s were the Hungarian Air Force who acquired the Gripens in 2003, with Czechia following the same in 2005.
Two years ago, Slovakia also decided to take the decision to replace their fighters, with Gripens or the US F-16 in the fray, however, it is likely that they might opt for the Swedish fighters due to the higher cost of the F-16s.
Bulgaria is also weighing its options with the Gripens in the running with the Eurofighter Typhoons and the US F/A-18 Hornets. On the other hand, due to their close diplomatic ties with the US, Poland might actually end up procuring F-16s over the Gripens.
Moreover, it makes sense for smaller nations that have a tight budget to opt for the Gripens as due to a smaller patrol area there to be covered by the fighter, there is no need to shell out massive sums on an aircraft with a dual-engine design.
If pitted against other fighters under the similar generation bracket, the Gripens are clearly the winners in economic terms with the Swedish combat planes cheaper to fly.
“Probably one of the largest factors for Gripen adoption is the very low flight hour cost. Gripens were rated by Jane’s to have a cost of around $4700 per flight hour. The next cheapest was the F-16 at $7000 per flight hour,”
Other European designs and the F/A-18 go over $10,000 per flight hour. Given that the MiG-29 has flight hour cost of around $4500 per flight hour, the Gripen is a logical choice to keep sustainment budgets from growing too much relative to past jets,” said Gao.
Moreover, the fighters have been instrumental in replacing Cold War American jets as showcased by Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro giving a go-ahead to acquire 36 Gripen fighters just ahead of French Rafales which were deemed too expensive.
Brazil alongside Thailand has concluded deals to bring in the Swedish fighters in a bid to replace their aging fleet of F-5 jets, with Thailand looking to operating their current fleet of F-16A and B alongside the Gripens.
“The trend is clear, when countries wanted to have a cheap, short-ranged, but effective patrol fighter to replace aging Cold War designs that were beyond modernization, the Gripen was chosen,” said Gao.
The JAS-39 “Gripen” is a light single-engine multirole combat aircraft designed and manufactured by the Swedish aerospace giants Saab AB.
Highly agile and versatile, the fighters boast the best electronic warfare (EW) suits across the world and have already been exported to Brazil, Czech Republic, Hungary, South Africa, Thailand, and the United Kingdom.
The fighters, which use pulse-doppler radar and are also able to attain speeds up to Mach 2, have a huge weapons load as well.
The Gripens can carry almost every weapon in service with NATO, including AIM-9 variants, IRIS-T, AIM-120 AMRAAM, Meteor, MICA, AGM-65 Maverick, KEPD 350 ALCM, and a host of other air-to-air and air-to-ground munitions.