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JAS 39 Gripen: The Best Fighter Jet No One Seems to Buy?

JAS 39
JAS 39 fighter. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Sweden planned for the Saab’s JAS 39 Gripen fighter jet to be a big hit overseas. This airplane has not completely lived up to its expectations in the export market. The airplane has had mixed success in foreign sales this year. Brazil is a customer, but Canada is not – as the Canadians chose the F-35 over the JAS 39 Gripen in a competition. The Gripen is a fourth-generation fighter that has become the quality choice for second-tier air forces around the world, but Saab wants the Gripen to be picked more by top-tier countries.

Gripen Has a Dark Side in Past Acquisitions

One of the reasons for sluggish sales could be that the Saab Gripen has been involved with various bribery and corruption allegations during sales transactions to South Africa and Brazil. While these accusations happened years ago and some situations involved the suppliers and not Saab itself, it does cast something of a shadow over international sales.

Brazil Is Enamored with Gripens 

Brazil is still a Gripen customer despite the scandal involving the administration of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. This spring Brazil ordered four additional Gripens in addition to the 36 it bought in 2014 with a $4.7 billion agreement. The Brazilians may even order 30 more Gripens in the future. The batch of four may cost Brazil $60 million each. If they order the additional 30 fighters, the price could go up to at least $1.8 billion to make for one of the most expensive arms deals in South American history.

Loss to F-35 in Canada Hurt 

Brazil’s continued purchase is good for Saab, but the real prize would have been a sale to Canada to replace its CF-18s. The Gripen was a finalist in a fighter competition against the F-35, but the Lockheed Martin Lightning II was the eventual victor, handing Saab a defeat in a potential deal with a major NATO partner. Canada may eventually buy as many as 88 F-35s if a final agreement can be reached.

JAS 39: It Still Has Strong Specs 

The Gripen comes in the ‘C’ and ‘E’ series, and both need upgrades to make the aircraft relevant over the next decade. The E model is bigger than the C and it holds more fuel. The E also has a bigger General Electric engine. The Gripen C can carry four Meteor air-to-air missiles, while the Gripen E can carry seven. Currently, the Gripen C can reach a speed of MACH 2 with a Volvo turbofan engine. Its ceiling is 50,000 feet and it has a range of 2,000 miles. The Czech Republic, Hungary, and Thailand operate the multi-role fighter. Again, these are not usually considered top-tier air forces.

Price Should Be Right

What can the Gripen do to improve its overseas sales? The lack of full stealth capability makes it difficult to compete with the F-35. For a fourth-generation-plus airplane, a price of around $60 million should not be the issue. The price point is affordable for smaller air forces around the globe. Plus, Sweden and Saab allow for a degree of technology transfer and the ability for countries that purchase it to make some of the Gripen parts indigenously. 

Gripen Has Not Seen Combat

One major problem is that the Gripen is not combat-proven like the F-16. The F-16 is also affordable and has a sterling record in conflicts such as Operation Desert Storm and over Afghanistan and Iraq after 9/11. This means that countries that do not live in dangerous neighborhoods such as Brazil can order the Gripen and not worry about its lack of a combat record, but larger air forces that must be concerned with Russia or China may opt for the F-16 instead.

The Gripen is a quality choice despite the corruption accusations and lack of war experience. It is affordable and high-performing. Losing the contract in Canada to the F-35 stung and its lack of full stealth characteristics make it a cut below the Lightning II. The Gripen can still compete in the export market – it just may not be the first choice for air forces that face major threats.

Now serving as 1945’s Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood.

Written By

Now serving as 1945s New Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer.

13 Comments

13 Comments

  1. GhostTomahawk

    July 7, 2022 at 2:46 am

    Dope looking plane but Sweden needs to get dirty militarily if it’s looking to start exporting it’s military equipment for sale to the bigger hitters of the world. Nothing wrong with being the supplier for the B and C teams of the world. Someone needs to and Id rather it be Sweden than Russia selling more Migs or China selling wannabe Migs or bad copies of F35s.

  2. Dan

    July 7, 2022 at 2:23 pm

    The J-39 was used in the Libyan conflict. Doesn’t that count?

  3. Steve Stark

    July 7, 2022 at 3:29 pm

    All these Europeans fighters, Gripen, Typhoon and Rafael, have the same problems in the export markets have the same problems on the export market…

    1. They’re built in a small scale and actual fly-away costs are higher than the F-35. Less than 300 Gripens of all models have been built. There are more F-35s headed to the US Marines. Almost 5000 F-16 have been built; new ones are almost half the price of the Gripen.
    2. As stealthy as they are, they ain’t Gen 5+.
    3. The F-35 is just more capable. 10 ton bomb loads, no problem. Don’t want to build an fleet carrier but have a perfectly good helicopter carrier? F-35B Are you in NATO and don’t want to spend time and money certifying the Typhoon? F-35A

    • Arne Lidmark

      July 7, 2022 at 4:49 pm

      A stealthy airframe compromise all other capabilities and will not be so important in the future. That’s why USAF i buying F-15. Gripen do it with avionics instead, which in this case is future proof.
      The amount of weapons in the air at a given point in time, is the important capability, which is higher for Gripen E, due to higher availability, turnaround, speed and STOL.
      The total cost for F-35 is more than 4 times that of Gripen E, and the total cost for F-16 is more than the double, for less capability.

      • Ron Felix

        July 8, 2022 at 5:44 pm

        Arne L!Bravo!do your homework so you won’t be ignorant!bang for the buck in any air force with a “A”game is Gripen JAS-39!

  4. Arne Lidmark

    July 7, 2022 at 5:06 pm

    Not correct! Gripen have been sold to a lot of countries and the only country where bribery have bee shown is South Africa, were BAE did the bribing. That was the reason for SAAB to stop the partnership with BAE.
    Gripen E is new combat airplane and have had little time to sell. But it is more capable than F-35 and cost less than 1/4, so it will certainly sell, despite the strict Swedish export rules for weapons and the political pressure to buy from USA.

  5. Arne Lidmark

    July 7, 2022 at 5:22 pm

    No enemy i killed by a label “5th generation”. Tactical superiority is what kill. Gripen E have done away with generations by being a modular design that can easily be upgraded to counter new unexpected treats.
    The only 5th gen airplane today is F-22. F-35 can’t super cruise and can’t dogfight. Thus lacking 2 criteria. Gripen E only lack 1, stealthy airframe.

  6. DaleMSD

    July 7, 2022 at 6:59 pm

    The fact is the Gripen along with the Eurofighter and Rafael is that it is a fourth generation design that doesn’t have the latest capabilities for a future conflict. They are designs that are also on their last legs as Europe must now either purchase the F35 or develop a stealthy technological marvel to compete with it. It’s not just the technology but future maintenance support as the model development winds down and fewer parts are available.

  7. Deng Li

    July 7, 2022 at 7:55 pm

    The F16 is a far better fighter for half the price. It’s more reliable and much cheaper to maintain and repair than the JAS 39 Gripen.

  8. Rolf Lindeberg

    July 8, 2022 at 4:13 am

    On 29 March 2011, the Swedish parliament approved the Swedish Air Force for a 3-month deployment to support the UN-mandated no-fly zone over Libya. Deployment of eight Gripens, ten pilots, and other personnel began on 2 April.[166] On 8 June 2011, the Swedish government announced an agreement to extend the deployment for five of the Gripens.[167] By October 2011, Gripens had flown more than 650 combat missions, almost 2,000 flight hours, and delivered approximately 2,000 reconnaissance reports to NATO.[

  9. Jan Tegnér

    July 8, 2022 at 12:05 pm

    The pros with stealth capability doesn’t weigh up for the cons. Modern radar technology with sensor networks also reduce the effectiveness of stealth capability.

    Gripen with the Meteor is currently the worlds deadliest fighter due to its beyond visual range capabilities and the range and speed of the Meteor missile.

    The extremely low maintenance cost for the Gripen fighter is another reason. Four Gripen fighters simply do the work better than one F-35 for the same price tag all days in the week.

  10. Imran Khan

    July 8, 2022 at 10:04 pm

    PAF JF 17 block 3 is half the price, has excellent specs and most recently shot down two Indian air force planes SU30MKI and Mig 29 Bison.

  11. Michael R Glenning

    July 12, 2022 at 3:49 am

    The JAS 39 Gripen should get in the fight in Ukraine. That would demonstrate is combat effectiveness against RUSSIA.

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