JAS 39 Gripen for Ukraine's Air Force: Best available option?

Author : Defense Express Media & Consulting Company

Source : 112 Ukraine

Ukraine's fleet desperately needs and upgrade, and the Swedish air superiority fighter could make a good alternative to the obsolete MiG-29s and Su-27s
23:20, 2 April 2021

Saab Gripen-E, Swedish Air Force fighter jet

JAS 39 Gripen, the 4-th generation air superiority fighter was created in Sweden, which is not a NATO member country and thus, risks to only count on itself if it comes to a war. This is why Saab company created an ainrcraft than shows its best in conditions of homefront against a rival. And the rival for Sweden and Ukraine is just the same. 

Gripen is actually considered as one of the best options to upgrade the fleet of Ukraine's Armed Forces, as the Command intends to retire the obsolete MiG-29s and Su-27s. The "pros" of the Swedish aircraft are its reasonable price, simplicity, and a wide range of armaments and oppotunities of combat use.  

Price is considered one of the major advantages of JAS 39. Sweden even offers other countries to lease the plane, which is considered the cheapest fighter of that generation. In 2003, Czech Republic actually lent 14 of these fighters for 800 million dollars. Hungary followed the neighbor's example and rented another 14 planes for 700 million.

But these conditions were only as long as Sweden believed it did not need the fleet of more than 200 aircraft; the country decided to cut the fleet size twice. The government ruled it would rather sell the planes than cut them into scrap metal.

It is also necessary to consider this: JAS underwent several stages of modernization. The basic model A/B met the requirements of the 4th-generation fighter in the 1990s, while the modern E/F version is more up to date, and it costs not the same amount of money as it used to.

JAS 39 E/F got a new F414 engine from General Electric, which envisages cold power at the supersonic speed of 1.25 Mach. The current version of the fighter also boasts an increased volume of fuel that now allows Gripen to reach the effective range of 1,300 km (for comparison, the C/D modification had 800 kilometers of effective range). The maximum takeoff weight was increased from 16.5 tons, and the number of hardpoints was increased from eight to ten. The current modification also boasts of new computer eqipment with the module software, remote navigation system, a wide use of radar-absorbent materials in its skin, and a new radar with the active electronically steered array.

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Brazil purcashed 36 planes in 2014; most of them were single-seat E models. The deal totaled 5.4 billion U.S. dollars, and Brazil reserved the right to produce 15 planes on its own facilities.

It's still too expensive, with 150 million dollars per unit, and Ukraine can only hope to buy a C/D modification of JAS 39, the version fitting the requirements of the 2000s. In 2016, Sweden offered Indonesia to purchase 16 planes of this particular modification per 1.5 billion dollars. That's actually USD 94 million per unit. Of course, it's not 50-60 million dollars, as it was for Czech Republic and Hungary. But that's still cheaper than F-16, the U.S,-made fighter, which costs 130-150 million dollars per unit (the Block 70/72 modification, with respective requipment and servicing included). The U.S. military can buy one for just 57 million. 

Saab has another ace in the hole; the company is ready to pass Ukraine the technologies and localization of the production. Considering the plans of Ukraine's Air Force to obtain four brigades of multi-role fighters by 2035, this could become a strategic factor.

Besides, Gripen's low cost of one flight hour could be the extremely important factor for Ukraine. For JAS39 C/D modification, the cost makes USD 7,000-8,000. Some reports that lack confirmation even state the cost of USD 4,000. For comparison, the cost of one flight hour on F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter makes USD 7,000-8,000; F/A-18 Super Hornet - USD 12,000-18,000; Dassault Rafale - USD 16,000-20,000.

Another significant advantage for Gripen is its unpretentiousness in terms of landing strips. The aircraft was designed in Sweden, and the local military doctrine envisages the spread of its fleet all over the country in case of a war. Thus, Gripen is supposed to take off and land on various sorts of landing strips; that includes temporary airfields on automobile highways.  

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Last but not least, JAS 39 enjoys a wide choice of options in terms of payload. The list of armament available for this particular fighter includes AIM-120 AMRAAM and MBDA missiles, GBU-12 bombs, as well as cruise and anti-ship missiles. By the way, Ukraine already offered Brazil to commence integration of Ukrainian missiles with Brazilian JAS 39 E/F.

Taking into consideration that the Ukrainian military industry can produce air-to-air missiles, and the plans to develop an anti-air modification of Neptune missile, Gripen looks like more and more favorable option - compared to the scenario when Ukraine would need to buy both the planes and foreign weaponry for them. And that, of course, is quite costly: one Meteor missile from the EU's MBDA manufacturing company costs two million Euros.

All in all, JAS 39 Gripen boasts of a reasonable price, anything-goes approach in terms of landing strips, low servicing costs, an option of integration of Ukraine-made missiles and further modernization, as well as am opporunity to localize production in Ukraine. 

If it comes to the opening of official tender for the purchase of JAS 39's by Ukrainian Air Force, the key question will be whether Saab is ready to participate in such a tender. It could be gained via more interesting credit terms, diplomatic activity and dirrect lobbying.

Related: Zelensky congratulated military, veterans on Ukraine's Day of Air Force

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