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JAS 39 Gripen: Is This Fighter Jet on the Brink of Facing Off Against Russia?

In 2022, Sweden, after so many decades of official neutrality, saw the proverbial writing on the wall thanks to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine. That summer, Sweden became an official invitee to join NATO, much to Putin’s chagrin.

Of course, Sweden is not yet a full-fledged member of NATO, thanks to stonewalling on the part of Turkish strongman Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. But that hasn’t stopped Sweden from taking initiative befitting a NATO ally. Indeed, the Scandinavian nation might soon provide some of its sophisticated JAS Gripen 39 fighter jets to Ukraine to bolster that nation’s defense against Russia.

The Basics

The latest news comes from reporters Louise Rasmussen of Reuters and Jake Epstein of Business Insider.

Rasmussen reports that “The Swedish government is considering donating Gripen fighter jets to Ukraine to help it fight Russia, Swedish public radio (SR) reported on Tuesday, citing unnamed sources. The government wants to know, among other things, how a handover would affect Sweden’s defence capabilities and how quickly Sweden could get new Gripen fighters, SR reported.

The government may formally ask the armed forces as early as Thursday [Sept. 14] to officially consider the issue, according to the report…Ukraine hopes to receive one division of Gripen jets…or 16-18 planes…Sweden this year said it would give Ukrainian pilots the opportunity to test the Gripen, but the government has also said it needs all its planes to defend Swedish territory.”

Epstein notes that “Even if Stockholm agrees to send Gripen fighter jets to Ukraine, because it would first take time to consider the transfer and then train Ukrainian pilots, the fighter jets likely wouldn’t see combat experience until mid-2024 at the earliest.”

Quick Review: JAS 39 Early History and Specifications

JAS stands for Jakt (“hunting”), Attack (“assault”), and Spaning (“reconnaissance.”)

The JAS 39 Gripen (Griffin) fourth-generation lightweight multirole fighter is manufactured by the Saab Group (Svenska Aeroplan AktieBolag, or Swedish Aeroplane Company Limited), headquartered in Stockholm. The Gripen made her maiden flight on Dec. 9, 1988, and officially entered into operational service with the Swedish Air Force (Flygvapnet) on June 9, 1996. By 2005 the airframe had completely supplanted the Saab 39 Viggen.

Specifications for the JAS 39 include a fuselage length of 46.3 feet, a wingspan of 27.6 feet, and a height of 14.8 feet, with an empty weight of 14,991 pounds and a maximum takeoff weight of 30,865 pounds. Max airspeed is 1,370 miles per hour (Mach 1.78), with a ceiling of 50,000 feet and a range of 1,988 miles. Armament-wise, the Gripen packs a 27mm Mauser BK-27 revolving cannon and eight hardpoints with a total payload capacity of 11,700 lbs. of ordnance. This can consist of anything from six AIM-9 Sidewinder infrared missiles to four AIM-120 AMRAAM “Slammer” active radar-guided missiles for air-to-air combat, four AGM-65 Maverick air-to-ground missiles, four GBU-12 Paveway laser-guided bombs, or eight Mark 82 unguided general purpose bombs.

Gripens’ Potential Future Role in the Ukrainian Air Force Arsenal?

If Sweden’s sale or donation of Gripens to Ukraine does indeed become a reality, the Swedish warbirds would be a welcome force multiplier for a Ukrainian Air Force that has already grown more formidable thanks to the generosity of other NATO nations. Poland was the first NATO member-nation to support Ukraine’s air force – not surprising given that country’s status as the easternmost NATO member and its longstanding history of negative run-ins with Russia. Warsaw transferred 10 MiG-29 Fulcrums to Ukraine this past May, and it was soon followed by Slovakia with 13 more Fulcrums.

Meanwhile, three nations have decided to supply the F-16 Fighting Falcon AKA “Viper” to Ukraine, starting with the Netherlands and Denmark. Norway soon followed, announcing its own intentions less than a month ago. The delicious irony here is the MiG-29 and F-16 were devised as one another’s adversaries during the Cold War. Now the two warbirds will serve alongside each other in the air force of a former Soviet Republic — thanks in part to a former Warsaw Pact member-nation turned NATO member — to fight against the Russians.

That a former neutral nation, Sweden, might add its own fighter planes to bolster that odd Cold War pairing would make the irony even richer. Time will tell.