No SAAB Gripens For Ukraine! Sweden ‘Rejects’ Kyiv’s Plea For JAS-39 Fighter Jets; Says ‘No Plans, To Be Honest’

Swedish SAAB JAS-39 Gripen has been projected as the most suitable option for Ukraine to take on the advanced Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS). However, in what could come as a disappointment to Kyiv, the Nordic country has reportedly fallen short of conceding to the demand for its newly announced military aid.

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According to recent media reports and tweets, Swedish Defense Minister Paul Jonson announced no plans to send the Gripen aircraft to Ukraine. He was speaking at a joint briefing with Minister of Defense for Ukraine Oleksiy Reznikov, held at the Odesa-Ukraine Media Center.

“There are no plans to send Gripen planes, to be honest,” Jonson said. At the same time, the Swedish Defense Minister noted that the new package of assistance to Ukraine from his country provides for the supply of modern air defense systems.

Kyiv Independent reported that a unique aid package would help the nation survive the winter amid intense Russian strikes on its energy infrastructure.

Combat aircraft delivery to Ukraine has long been a contentious issue. Ukraine has repeatedly requested new and advanced fighter jets to bolster its fleet of Soviet-made fighters and attack aircraft suffering regular casualties in combat.

Several calls have been made for JAS-39 to be transferred to Ukraine, including from military experts and think tanks.

However, the issue gathered momentum in late November when Swedish MP Magnus Jacobsson said, “My view is simple. Ukraine wants to buy JAS, and we should say yes. It is not more difficult than that,” in an interview.

Ukraine has repeatedly asked NATO countries for fighter jets that could allow Kyiv’s obsolete Air Force to challenge the heavy-duty Russian fighters equipped with long-range lethal missiles.

Western warplanes would “help Ukraine achieve superiority over the enemy in the skies,” Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky said on Facebook.

EurAsian Times reported in July that the United States House of Representatives approved $100 million for training Ukrainian pilots to fly American fighter jets as part of the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act. However, Washington has so far shown reluctance for fear of escalation with Russia.

At one point, speculations were rife that the US would eventually transfer its A-10 Warthogs to Ukraine. In November, there were reports that English-speaking Ukrainian pilots were selected for training on Western aircraft.

However, despite Russia constantly bombing Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, Western fighter jets for Ukraine remain elusive.

A Case For Swedish Gripens For Ukraine

Ukrainian Air Force and its politicians have long called for the F-15 or F-16 fighters to be transferred to Kyiv. However, Ukrainian and Western analysts have recommended the Saab JAS 39 Gripen as one of Ukraine’s best possibilities.

The Swedish SAAB Gripen is a single-engine, multi-role fighter jet.

The Gripen was produced in the 1980s to operate from remote locations with the least amount of infrastructure.

According to operational criteria for Ukrainian air defense, experts from the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) concluded in research released on November 7 that the Swedish aircraft is the most viable choice among Western-made fighter jets.

The report backed its argument by stating that “Conceptually, the Swedish Air Force has always emphasized low-level air superiority tactics from dispersed bases, in a similar manner to how the Ukrainian Air Force currently operates, and so the Gripen was designed with ground support equipment and maintenance requirements compatible with that approach.”

Despite being grossly outnumbered by the VKS, the Ukrainian Air Force has kept the airspace over its territory contested and denied air superiority to Russia. Ukrainian fighter pilots used adaptable strategies such as keeping the aircraft moving between airfields and flying challenging flight paths to reduce the possibility of the enemy catching them on the ground.

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It is well known that the Swedish Air Force (SwAF) operates similarly. The US Air Force, known to have deployed troops to Sweden to learn similar techniques, has praised Sweden’s methods of dispersing its aircraft during times of war.

The Swedish fighter jets are built to take off and land on tiny strips of land and long sections of straight highways. According to SAAB, the aircraft manufacturer, the Gripen C/D fighter jets of the SwAF, for instance, can land at 600 meters and take off at 500 meters.

Consequently, the Gripen can take off and land quickly, allowing it to operate from taxiways, small public airports, and motorways. This would suit the unique battlefield requirements in Ukraine. In addition, the electronic warfare suite on the Swedish fighter jet has been tailored specifically to block Russian fighters and SAM radars.

According to the RUSI report, even a small number of contemporary Western-made fighters, like Swedish Gripens with long-range missiles, might compete with the Russian Air Force on equal or even better technological grounds, leading to an unbalanced outcome.

Besides its advanced operational capabilities, the Gripens are also cheaper to maintain. According to several reports, the Gripen has much cheaper operational costs than Western combat planes like the F-16, F-18, and Rafale.

With the Swedish Defense Minister clarifying his country’s position regarding the SAAB JAS-39 Gripen fighter jets, the hope to achieve air superiority over the Ukrainian skies could be believed to have been dashed again.