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Gripen: The Fighter Jet from Sweden the Chinese Air Force Hates

Gripen Figher Jet. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

It was back in December 2019 when People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) test pilot Li Zhonghua gave a lecture—to much media attention—at the Northwestern Polytechnical University in Shaanxi that delved deeper into the PLAAF experience at the Falcon Strike 2015 exercise, when Chinese Air Force Su-27s had a hard time taking on Swedish-built Gripen fighter jets.

That particular exercise, conducted in Thailand with the PLAAF’s Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) counterparts, showcased the varied capabilities of China’s Su-27s (also known as the J-11 fighter) and Gripen-Cs and offered hints at where such aircraft will be headed toward technologically in the coming years.

How They Stack Up

According to defense writer Rick Joe at The Diplomat, per the lecture, here’s a summary of the strengths and weaknesses:

“The Gripen-C enjoys substantially more capable BVR (beyond visual range) capabilities than the Su-27, in terms of maximum radar range (160km versus 120km), as well as the maximum range of its BVR missile (80km versus 50km), and the ability to engage more targets simultaneously (4 versus 1).”

He continues: “The radar cross section of the Gripen-C is also substantially smaller than the Su-27 (1.5-2m2 versus 10-12m2). The overall electronic warfare, datalinking and avionics architecture of the Gripen-C is also substantially more capable than the Su-27. The Gripen-C also enjoys better instantaneous kinematic performance/turn rate than the Su-27.”

The Su-27, on the flip side, “benefits from greater engine thrust and better sustained kinematic performance/turn rate than Gripen-C, while enjoying a more capable WVR capability in the form of R-73, which features higher off boresight capability which can be exploited by the primitive but effective Shchel-3UM HMS.”

What the Falcon Strike 2015 really revealed is that it confirmed that “aircraft with superior sensors, weapons, avionics, datalinking and electronic warfare, can resoundingly defeat aircraft in BVR domains and in engagements that demand greater cooperation and mutual situational awareness,” Joe added.

Improving Situational Awareness

Moreover, it appears that the Chinese military have tapped into those exercise results to make improvements in its own pilot training.

“Chinese language articles written by Chinese insiders, as well as the information from the original slides presented in December 2019, indicated deficiencies of having sufficient situational awareness, particularly in multi-ship engagements and reduced ability to accurately defeat simulated BVR missiles, the latter of which was described as potentially related to different simulation parameters used by AMRAAM compared to the PLAAF’s prior PL-12 and R-77 simulators,” Joe writes.

“Deficiencies in situational awareness could also be partly attributed to the inferior sensors, cockpit and datalinking of Su-27SKs, however the brisk way in which the presentation described those results perhaps indicate a degree of expectation that Su-27SK pilots should be able to overcome those imbalances even in the face of technological inferiority,” he continues.

Ethen Kim Lieser is a Washington state-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.

Written By

Ethen Kim Lieser is a Washington state-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV.



  1. dm789

    December 4, 2021 at 7:44 pm

    This is why Philippines a d Canada should choose Gripen it’s cheap to operate, maintain, it’s reliable, can be stored/hidden in small roads and highways. And still have some advanced electronic warfare. Why spent to much on anything else? Beat the bigger opponent with smaller, cheaper weapon. You dont need range or extra weapons of you are just defending your territory. With land base defense system supporting the aircraft Gripen is the solution for many air force that can’t afford to print money.

  2. Steve P

    December 5, 2021 at 2:10 am

    First, the Chinese Air Force does not hate Grapen, they praised it. Su27 was not their first line fighter jet anyway, and Grapen does not post any threat
    , especially from a friendly country.

    Why something Chinese hate equal to anything good? Demonizing a great country is contributing to the destructing of the world peace. What a shame!

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