JAS-39 Gripen: Ukrainian Fighter Pilots Complete Orientation Training On Swedish SAAB Jets — Reports

Ukrainian aviators have successfully finished their orientation training for operating Swedish Gripen fighter aircraft, reported Radio Sweden, citing Swedish Defense Minister Pål Jonson.

The report said the training included test flights in actual aircraft and simulators and informative sessions for ground personnel.

Jonson mentioned that the insights and experience acquired during this training will be the basis for evaluating the feasibility of transferring Gripen aircraft to Ukraine. Radio Sweden further added that the training process has been completed and went well.

This development comes just days following reports in the Swedish media, which had suggested that the nation was contemplating the possibility of dispatching Gripen fighter jets to Ukraine. 

The Swedish government had initiated an official process, tasking the Swedish Armed Forces to investigate the feasibility of such a deployment. 

The government’s primary concerns were assessing the potential impact of this transfer on Sweden’s defense capabilities and determining the speed at which Sweden could obtain replacement Gripen aircraft if the jets were sent to Ukraine. 

According to the reports, Ukraine hopes to secure a division of Gripen aircraft produced by Sweden’s Saab, comprising approximately 16 to 18 aircraft. The Gripen plane set for donation by Sweden will consist of the JAS 39C/D versions. 

However, the practical execution of any potential transfer is expected to be a protracted process, requiring substantial time to materialize.  

Following the comprehensive investigation conducted by the country’s armed forces into the feasibility of this plan, the subsequent course of action would entail formal voting by the nation’s lawmakers to ratify any decisions officially. 

The earliest conceivable timeframe for Swedish Gripen jets to be operational over Ukraine would be the summer of 2024. 

Although the orientation training has been successfully concluded, the actual schedule for transferring these jets would also hinge on the advancements achieved in overall pilot and maintainer training.

Why The Saab JAS39 Gripen?

The Gripen aircraft, classified as light-to-medium weight fighters, have been meticulously engineered with a strong emphasis on efficiency and reliability.

Their design was conceived with the idea of swift maintenance and operation by small teams, often comprised of conscripted ground personnel. This versatility allows them to be deployed and take off from makeshift runways and rugged terrains in wartime scenarios.

The Gripen aircraft aligns well with Ukraine’s current combat doctrine, making it an ideal choice. However, the fact that it is a Swedish design adds a layer of complexity to the logistics of US and NATO support.

A notable advantage of the Gripen is its compatibility with MBDA’s Meteor beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile. 

This capability holds significant importance for Ukraine as it will equip its pilots with access to the most extended-range air-to-air missile currently within NATO’s arsenal.

This feature offers Ukrainian pilots a distinct advantage when engaging Russian aircraft, many of which tend to maintain a distance from the frontlines.

SAAB Gripen
SAAB Gripen

However, several significant hurdles could impede Sweden’s potential transfer of Gripen aircraft to Ukraine. 

On the domestic front, apprehensions have been raised by high-ranking Swedish government officials, primarily stemming from the existing inventory of Gripens in active service. The Swedish Air Force currently operates approximately 94 Gripen C/D variants.

Even with the forthcoming arrival of the Gripen E, the plan remains to keep the Gripen C/D variants in active service until at least 2030. This decision facilitates the seamless integration of the new Gripen jets into the fleet and addresses the escalating Russian threat.

The Russian security threat may pose significant challenges for Sweden regarding releasing any airframes for transfer. 

Even if Sweden does not ultimately send the JAS 39 Gripen to Ukraine, the valuable experience gained by Ukrainian pilots during their training will significantly facilitate their transition to working with the F-16 aircraft. 

As Ukrainian pilots become proficient in mastering Swedish fighters’ fundamental controls and systems, this knowledge will serve as a solid foundation for them to adapt to operating US F-16s more easily.

The training received on the Swedish Gripen will offer Ukrainian pilots a unique opportunity to become well-acquainted with the systems and interfaces commonly found in Western fighters.

The Western fighters often share many standard features, including the use of NATO-compatible data link networks and comprehensive air-land battle information on color multi-function displays.