The JAS 39 Gripen – Explained: In an age dominated by rapidly arriving 5th-generation aircraft around the world, a growing European coalition of networked F-35s, Russian, and Chinese 5th-generation efforts, some might wonder if there could be a continued place for a high-speed, light attack and reconnaissance plane.
Clearly, there is, and considering the outcry of support to send the JAS 39 Gripen from Sweden to Ukraine, such warplanes do indeed seem to have a bright future.
Next Generation JAS 39Gripen
There may indeed be a critical place for such an aircraft, given the scope of upgrades built into the Saab Gripen next generation, a new variant of the single-engine multi-role fighter manufactured by Swedish company Saab.
The Swedish Air Force and Brazilian Air Force both began to receive the Super JAS, JAS 39E/F Gripen in 2019, a development that suggests there is indeed great value in a new Gripen variant.
The upgraded JAS 39 E/F Gripen includes a larger frame and fuselage, a more powerful engine, increased weapons payload capacity, a new cockpit, and electronic warfare integration.
The Super JAS is a new variant of the 1980s-era Gripen, which Swedish newspapers say is presenting the Swedish military with substantial budget challenges. In order to free up enough funds to support the rapid development of the Super JAS, a Swedish newspaper called “The Local” says the country’s military will need to cut back on other key priorities.
Throughout the Gripen’s development, Saab has made progress with several industry partners, including BAE and a Norwegian defense firm. The aircraft has also been upgraded in recent years to incorporate a number of innovations now fundamental to the F-35 such as a helmet-mounted display, Active Electronically Scanned Array radar, and air-to-air weapons such as the AIM-9X.
Family of Gripens
Gripen became operational with the Swedish Air Force in 1997, and since that time more than 200 Gripen have been delivered and as many as 28 two-seat variants, according to information published by SAAB.
The Gripen also has a presence in South Africa, Thailand, and several key Eastern European countries such as Hungary and the Czech Republic.
The Gripen is not particularly stealthy, yet the aircraft is fast and maneuverable with speeds reaching up to Mach 2. The upgraded Gripen, should it come to fruition in impactful numbers, could prove very beneficial in a few key ways. Advanced 4th-generation aircraft could prove impactful in the event that NATO or European countries need to “mass” a force in support of 5th-generation F-35s. Should there be a large-scale air engagement in Europe, 5th-gen aircraft are likely to lead the way, however, fast, maneuverable high-tech 4th-generation aircraft will be highly critical in this scenario.
Potential major adversaries such as Russia possess a large inventory of 4th-generation fighters, which will need to be engaged and countered. Russia may have some Su-57s, but not a very large force according to production plans listed in the Russian papers, therefore advanced 4th-generation aircraft would prove critical in any air war in Europe.
Therefore, Swedish and Eastern European upgraded Gripens could prove extremely decisive should NATO and allied European countries need to counter Russia in the air. Both 4th and 5th-generation aircraft will be needed to engage Russian Su-27s and Su-35s, as they are fast, capable 4th-generation aircraft. Europe will need to mass a fleet of advanced 4th-gen aircraft in support of a growing, yet small number of F-35s to leverage its air advantage over Russia. This is critical as NATO’s largest advantage over Russia can arguably be found in the air, given the growing number of networked F-35 aircraft throughout Europe.
About the Author
Kris Osborn is the Military Affairs Editor of 19FortyFive and President of Warrior Maven – Center for Military Modernization. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.