Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, after a meeting with Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson, announced at a recent press conference that Ukrainian pilots are already flying Swedish aircraft and that “we are getting closer to having the Gripen in our skies.”
Designed to combat a possible invasion of Sweden by Russia in a northern climate, it could be a solution to Ukraine’s air superiority woes. But the question of the supply of these aircraft to Ukraine remains open.
It is especially relevant in the context of the recent comment of Oleksiy Reznikov, the Minister of Defense of Ukraine, who said that Ukrainian pilots have also started training on American F-16 fighter aircraft.
Swedish Defense Minister Paul Jonson said that Ukrainian pilots are receiving both simulator and flight training on the Saab JAS 39 Gripen. This training will prepare them for using the fighters if the Ukrainian Air Force receives the jets. Knowing the latest Western jet fighters will aid our pilots in adjusting to modern digital cockpits and mastering the built-in navigation, radar, and communication systems.
At the same time, the Swedish Defense Minister spoke on the possibility of sending JAS 39 Gripen fighters to Ukraine. He stated that this topic is currently off the agenda and that Ukraine should not rely on this equipment.
“The question of giving planes to Ukraine is off the agenda because the ones we have in Sweden are vital for our national defense,” he said.
However, it is not entirely ruled out that Sweden could send these jets to Ukraine. The Swedish Air Force has undergone cuts over the years; meanwhile, the production of the JAS 39 Gripen was in full swing. Sweden decided not to cancel the new planes that were ordered.
So, after being manufactured, they went straight to storage instead of the Air Forces. Sweden has 204 Gripen fighters, but only 100 are in full-time operation.
Why the Saab JAS39 Gripen (“Griffen” in English) is so suitable for Ukraine
Each JAS 39 Gripen is equipped with a special information exchange [Celsius Tech CDL 39 communications data link, compatible with NATO tactical data link systems like Link 16] and tactical area control system.
The Swedish Air Force conducted a series of exercises to demonstrate the capabilities of this system. During the exercise, six Gripen fighters successfully controlled half of Sweden’s territory. Each pilot knew the location of other aircraft, their observations, and plans for further actions.
Even if Sweden won’t send the JAS 39 Gripen to Ukraine, the experience gained by Ukrainian pilots will make it much easier to start working with the F-16. After Ukrainian pilots learn the basics of control and usage of all systems on Swedish fighters, they will more easily be able to transition to the US F-16s.
Training on the Swedish Gripen will allow our pilots the opportunity to familiarize themselves with all the systems and interfaces of Western fighters, which share many common features, such as using NATO-compatible data linked networking information displaying the entire air-land battlespace on color multi-function displays.
Ukrainian pilots know how to fly a plane, how to take off and land, can perform anti-missile threat reaction maneuvers, fly at extremely low altitudes, and shoot accurately. This was recognized by American specialists, who highly praised the flying skills of Ukrainian pilots. Ukrainian pilots prove themselves efficient even on outdated aircraft such as MiG-29, Su-25, or Su-27.
Saab, the Swedish manufacture of the Gripen, claims that flight crew and maintenance personnel training for the JAS 39 will be twice as fast as for the F-16.
JAS 39 Gripen
This is a fourth-generation multipurpose fighter designed and produced by the Swedish company SAAB. The JAS 39 was adopted by the Swedish Air Force in 1997, making it one of the newest fighters in the world. For example, the F-16 was adopted in 1978, and the MiG-29 in 1983.
[F-16s were first operational in 1985 but have been modified much over the years. Current F-16s are kept up to date with continuous upgrade of avionics and aircraft software – ed.]
During the development of Gripen, the goal was to create the most versatile aircraft that could perform most flight tasks. This multi-role capability is reflected in the JAS abbreviation: Jakt (hunt), Attack (attack), Spaning (reconnaissance). This differs from MiG-29s which were built to be short range point-defense interceptors.
A distinctive feature of these fighters is their maximum adaptability to Scandinavia’s harsh climate. These jets have excellent take-off and landing characteristics, which allows them to take off from short runways and certain prepared sections of highways, while being resistant to the effects of severe cold. The advantage of Gripen is their ease of maintenance. The ability to take off from airfields and highways that are not ideal will spare Ukraine the need to build new airfields.
The engineers took into account the unique requirements of the Swedish Air Force when designing the aircraft. Thanks to this, Gripen can take off from snow-covered airstrips 800 meters long, and, under ideal conditions, the preparation time for the next flight (refueling, replacing weapons, inspection, and maintenance) should not exceed 10 minutes.
[10 minutes is the time with the aircraft in the parking spot directly available to maintenance personnel for an air-to-air mission. It is not from landing to takeoff and does not include loading surface attack weapons. – ed.]
Since the Armed Forces need air support as soon as possible, this factor is extremely important and may prove to be decisive.
Also, the Gripen purportedly is very cost-efficient. According to Swedish estimates, the cost of the JAS 39 flight hour is only $4,700 compared to $7,000 per F-16 flight hour.
The general characteristics of the fighter are optimized for the interceptor. According to the SAAB company, the jet can fly supersonic without afterburners and with weapons onboard. According to experts, this is possible due to the low aerodynamic resistance of the aircraft.
The aircraft is equipped with PS-05/A radar, which can detect an air target of the fighter type at 120 km and track the movement of cars on the road or the ships at sea from 70 km.
The pilot’s cockpit is equipped with a large-scale indicator and three multifunctional color displays. Additionally, all the important indicators of the aircraft are displayed on the helmet-mounted display.
The Gripen is equipped with a system that optimizes pilot awareness of the aircraft parameters and the surroundings. All the data from onboard sensors and databases is pre-processed and analyzed to ensure that the pilot receives only necessary and valuable information. This way of presenting information makes it easier for the pilot to make quick and accurate decisions.
The Gripen fighter can use almost the entire inventory of aviation ammunition and missiles of NATO member countries.
To combat air targets, the Gripen is equipped with AIM-120 missiles, which have a range of up to 120 kilometers. In addition, this aircraft can serve as a carrier of British Storm Shadow cruise missiles with a range of more than 560 kilometers (these missiles are already in the Armed Forces). Thanks to this, the Gripen is a highly effective combat platform ready to perform a variety of missions.
Gripen ground maintenance procedures and airfield basing in combat conditions
The Swedes have an advanced system of maintenance, camouflage, and storage of their jets. The country is dotted with special shelters and carefully camouflaged fighter jet parking areas on the sides of the country's main highways. Due to this approach, it is difficult for the enemy to find out where the jets are based.
This dispersal ability decreases enemy targeting of fighters on the ground during their most vulnerable moments.
To ensure the correct operation of this system, one needs solid material and technical support. Within the Swedish Air Force, there are 16 special battalions responsible for the maintenance of fighters and weapons replacement. Each of them consists of eight mobile groups, six technicians per group. There are groups with one highly qualified technician and five soldiers that reportedly fully mastered all repair and technical skills after a few weeks of training.
Each group has three vehicles for the transportation of fuel, ammunition, and various tools needed to prepare an aircraft for flight. Immediately after the landing of the fighter, the technical group leaves the camouflaged shelter and begins its work. After the plane has taken off, technicians immediately return to the shelter.
In general, the Swedish approach implies that an aircraft should change its base frequently and, ideally, never return to the base it took off from.
The tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) used by the Swedes meet Ukrainian needs. Since Russia is actively shelling our military airfields, we must ensure the maximum level of security both for those aircraft that are already in the Ukrainian Air Force and for those that will soon be transferred to us. Therefore, it is important that allied countries train not only our pilots but also airfield technicians and engineers.
Given the capabilities and potential of the Ukrainian military, such tactics will contribute to achieving a high level of security for our crews and aircraft.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s and not necessarily those of Kyiv Post.
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