TechThey were a competitor for the F-16. Sweden is modernizing them

They were a competitor for the F‑16. Sweden is modernizing them

JAS 39 Gripen
JAS 39 Gripen
Images source: © Saab
4:18 PM EDT, October 26, 2023

The Swedes have decided to modernize their Gripen C/D aircraft as a bridging solution that ensures the cooperation of older Gripens with the new ones. We present the performance of this Swedish machine.

The most recent order between the Swedish FMV agency and Saab company includes a contract valued at 579 million Swedish Krona (about $64 million USD). The upgrade is intended to ensure the operationality of the JAS-39 Gripen C/D aircraft beyond 2030, as mentioned by Lars Tossman, the director of the business area at Saab Aeronautics.

The agreement includes the design of new simulators and support systems to ensure harmonization of machine operation in C/D and E/F standards. In addition, the contact also includes a supply of spare parts.

JAS-39 Gripen C/D — a very successful competitor for the F-16

The Swedish JAS-39 Gripen is a design that had its maiden flight in 1988, representing the pinnacle of the evolution of the Swedish industry responsible for such machines as the J35 Draken and the JA-37 Viggen.

This resulted in the JAS-39 Gripen in the C/D version being the latest machine participating in the Polish "tender of the century" in which the American F-16 was ultimately chosen. At that time, the Gripen was still suffering from certain "teething troubles" and gaps in capabilities, but all these aspects were eliminated in the subsequent years.

The Swedish design was conceived according to specific Swedish requirements where low operating costs and the ability to operate from so-called road airstrips or straight sections of roads, were a priority. As a result, a modern machine capable of conducting a wide range of tasks was received, the cost of which per flight hour is even five times lower than that of an F-35 and as much as 40 percent lower than that of the F-16, which is considered economical.

Unfortunately, despite these advantages, the design did not gain huge interest outside of Sweden. Not counting the Czech Republic and Hungary, which only rent these airplanes, the customers were: Brazil, Thailand, and the Republic of South Africa.

The reason for this, rather than any other situation, is largely due to political issues that are always a shadow over arms contracts of such a large scale. Despite having an excellent product on the market, Sweden does not have such influence and cannot offer support guarantees like the USA or France. However, the collapse of Russia's credibility in the arms market and Sweden's accession to NATO may have a positive impact on the sale of Gripen in the global market in the coming years.

The Gripen C/D is a single-engine design based on the use of a delta wing with ducktail configuration, ensuring excellent maneuverability at both low and supersonic speeds. The Gripen in this version is capable of carrying 5.3 tons of weaponry on eight pylons that complement a 27mm Mauser BK-27 cannon.

The available arsenal includes, among others:

  • bombs from the JDAM family,
  • short-range air-to-air AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles,
  • short-range air-to-air IRIS-T missiles,
  • long-range air-to-air MBDA Meteor missiles,
  • medium-range air-to-air AIM-120 AMRAAM missiles,
  • Taurus KEPD 350 cruise missiles,
  • RBS-15F anti-ship missiles,
  • MALD decoys.

Saab JAS-39 Gripen E — the pinnacle of Swedish technical thought

However, this is not the end of the possibilities, because in 2019, a new version of Gripen marked as E/F was flown, which offers many improvements compared to the older version. The starting mass of the new machine increased from roughly 30865 lbs to 36376 lbs, but it offers among other things, two more pylons for carrying about 15873 lbs of armament, it has a better engine allowing for supersonic flight without the use of a afterburner, and an improved set of sensors.

In addition to the newer radar made with AESA technology, a passive (not emitting any signals) Infrared Search and Track (IRST) Skyward-G system was also added, enabling the detection of the thermal signature of an enemy aircraft even from about 62 miles. Such a configuration, together with new capabilities added over time, will make Gripen a dangerous construct even around 2060.

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