This week, NATO officially invited Finland and Sweden to join the international alliance. It will formally end decades of neutrality for the two Scandinavian nations; yet, little could change in the military hardware plans for either Helsinki or Stockholm.
The Finnish military has announced that it would adopt the Lockheed Martin F-35 as its new fighter, while it is likely Stockholm will stick with its own domestically-developed warbird, the JAS 39 Gripen (Griffin). While still a fourth-generation fighter, the JAS 39 became the first true Swedish multirole combat aircraft – and it is capable of conducting interception, ground attack, and reconnaissance.
It is presently offered in two modern variants: C- and E-series, yet even those are in need of some updates, and last month it was announced that the Gripen C-series would enter an “upgrade process” that could see those models remain in service until at least 2035.
Earlier this year, the Swedish Defence Materiel Administration (FMV) awarded a SEK 500 million ($52 million) contract with Saab to provide maintenance services for the fighter aircraft. Saab will provide capability improvements to the JAS 39 to maintain its operational relevance for the next decade, as well as cost-effective solutions to help sustain the aircraft for an even longer period.
Griffin Takes Flight
The JAS 39 was initially designed to replace the variants of the Saab 35 Viggen and Saab 37 Draken combat aircraft. Development of the aircraft began in the late 1970s as part of a joint effort by an industrial consortium that consisted of Saab, Saab Microwave Systems (formerly Ericsson), Volvo Aero Corporation, Saab Avitronics and FFV Aerotech.
The government in Stockholm sought an aircraft that could be capable of fighter, attack, and recon missions. After evaluating a number of existing foreign aircraft including the American F-16 and F-18 fighters, the Swedish Parliament decided in June 1982 to move forward with a domestic project.
The resulting JAS 39 Gripen is a Mach 2 delta wing and canard fighter jet powered by a Volvo turbofan engine with an afterburner. It has a range of up to 3,200 km (2,000 miles), and can fly at an altitude of 15,240 meters (50,000 feet). The Gripen made its maiden flight in December 1988, and it entered operational service with the Swedish Air Force in 1997. A total of 204 aircraft in three batches had been ordered by Swedish Air Forces, which to date has taken delivery of 74 aircraft.
A total of 158 Gripens were produced as of 2016, and the aircraft has been exported around the globe. Current operators include Brazil, the Czech Republic, Hungary, South Africa and Thailand, while the United Kingdom’s Empire Test Pilots’ School also operates Gripens in a training capacity.
In June, the Czech Republic announced that it was looking to acquire upwards of 24 new fighters as its lease for its fleet of Gripens will expire in 2027. The Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II has been seen as the leading contender, but Fredrik Jörgensen, Swedish ambassador to the Czech Republic, had said in a recent interview that the Czech Air Force could keep the Gripens that it leased from Sweden for free.
That could be a hard deal for Prague to pass up, and it could be Stockholm’s way of showing commitment to NATO – and its confidence in the JAS 39.
Now a Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes.