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Twin Breakthrough For SAAB? Gripen Fighter Jets Could Get New Customers After Losing Multiple Deals To F-35

Saab, the Swedish defense giant, has been struggling to get export orders for its Gripen fighter jets after falling short on multiple occasions against Lockheed Martin’s F-35 fifth-gen aircraft.  

However, the Saab could soon get a significant breakthrough, as two countries have expressed interest in the aircraft.

The latest reports indicate that Colombia and the Philippines may be interested in purchasing the Gripen fighter jets for their respective air forces.

Speaking of the Philippines, Saab has long sought to sell its fighter jets to Manila. Since 2016, the business has had a sales office there. 

But, Stockholm has long viewed the lucrative arms trade with the Philippines as problematic due to reports of human rights violations in the Philippines under the last President, Rodrigo Duterte. 

The latest report revealed that Saab is anticipating a billion-dollar deal with the Philippines after the Swedish government approved the transfer of the JAS Gripen to the Southeast Asian country in November.

Fighter Systems | Air | Saab
SAAB Gripen

The Export Control Board (EKR) of the Swedish Arms Export Authority (ISP) unanimously approved the deal, a Swedish newspaper has revealed. But, the ISP did neither confirm nor refute the information due to trade secrets. 

ISP believes that the export of weapons is feasible because Duterte is no longer in power, and Sweden believes that the situation will improve in the Philippines.

Swedish weapons exports to the Philippines would be a first in history if allowed. Mattias Rdström, the press spokesperson at Saab, acknowledged that the Philippines’ interest in Gripens is “common knowledge.”

The precise number of aircraft that may be included in the agreement and the variant of the Gripens are unclear. But, it is thought that Manila may choose to acquire Gripen C and D for its Air Force. 

Earlier variants of Gripen had some success in South Africa, Southeast Asia, and Central. Still, they experienced significant setbacks when Sweden’s neighbors Denmark, Finland, and Norway decided to buy US-made fighter jets instead.

When Canada decided to opt for F-35s over Gripen jets, Saab was left ‘high and dry.’

Earlier Saab had stated the decision to opt for F-35 might be based on political judgments. “Everything comes to politics sometimes – this is not only about having a great product.”

Colombia Looks To Procure Gripen Jets?

In September, the newly elected President of Colombia, Gustavo Petro, resumed the purchase of new fighter aircraft to replace the country’s outdated Kfir fleet. The decision deviated from Petro’s previously stated stance that his government would not purchase new military hardware.

File Image: Gripen

On November 29, the country’s defense minister Iván Velásquez met with the United States defense secretary, Lloyd J Austin, to discuss issues such as human rights, rapprochement with illegal groups, and anti-drug-trafficking efforts.

Many expected the defense minister to discuss the potential acquisition of F-16s from the United States, but that topic was not addressed during the meeting. After the meeting, the Colombian defense minister underlined that the fleet replacement plan is still in place.

He added that the government is trying to replace the aging military hardware. In the case of aircraft, they are currently receiving offers outlining the terms and conditions of the acquisition.

The minister emphasized that purchasing the SAAB Gripen fighter plane is one of the possibilities under consideration.

The EurAsian Times had earlier reported that Saab had offered three double-seat Gripen-F and twelve single-seat Gripen E aircraft to replace the Kfir plane in 2019.

The Swedish manufacturer had promised to meet the requirement using its Brazilian production facilities if chosen. The Gripen E/F is an improved version of the Gripen C/D fighter planes.

Colombia Kfir – Wikimedia Commons

Meanwhile, Velásquez has not ruled out the possibility of buying F-16 fighter planes. The outdated Kfir fighter jets make up Colombia’s air force. Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) has sold the South American nation 24 Kfir jets since 1989. 

Between 2009 and 2017, the Lahav Division of IAI updated Colombia’s Kfir fleet. The decision to upgrade the aging aircraft was taken to counter Venezuela’s purchase of the Sukhoi Su-32 aircraft. Colombia and Venezuela are still embroiled in conflict.

The recent upgrade to the Kfir, to the C-60 standard, included Rafael Advanced Defense Systems’ air-to-air, beyond-visual-range Derby weapon, Elta Systems’ ELM-2032 active electronically scanned array radar, and a data link.

According to IAI, these upgrades put the Kfir aircraft’s capabilities up to par with those of the F-16 Block 52. Defense News’ sources, however, said that Carlos Cordoba, the head of Colombia’s air force, persuaded Iván Velásquez, the country’s defense minister, to replace the Kfir fleet, which would be phased out beginning at the end of this year. 

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