JAS 39: The best fighter in the world, not called F-22 or F-35?

Why can’t the JAS 39 Gripen beat the F-35 in sales?: Pepsi Cola, Burger King and Volkswagen all have one thing in common – they are second in their respective market, and while it’s still respectable, it shows someone was better. Some accept finishing second, while others go on a lengthy media tour and suggest: “You can run the best campaign‘ and apparently stole the win from you


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In that last example, it wasn’t anywhere near the best campaign — but that’s a whole different issue.

Still, it’s easy to see how Micael Johansson, Saab’s President and CEO, recently told reporters last year of his “extreme frustration” at the lack of recent sales of the company’s Gripen fighter jet.

Perhaps, it’s just an overhyped plane?

However, Johansson clearly doesn’t see it that way. Speaking to reporters at the company’s Stockholm headquarters last summer, Johansson admitted the single-engine “Euro-Canard” was struggling to meet the export expectations that its predecessors set for the multirole fighter.

According to a report by Janeshe quickly added that it wasn’t about the quality of the aircraft, it was about politics.

“It is extremely frustrating, to say the least, and I can say that it is not about the (Gripen) product that we have developed and manufactured. If there had been a completely level playing field when it comes to not talking about safety, politics and other areas, then I think we would have been a lot better off (in terms of securing sales),” Johansson said.

“In many countries, the influence of the US is enormous,” he continued. “They’re not that easy to fight (in the market) and it’s politics.”

However, it is worth noting that Saab had largely failed to secure additional sales for either its earlier Gripen C/D or its latest Gripen E/F range, while international sales campaigns had not met with success since Brazil launched the Gripen E/F Program was joined in 2014.

JAS 39: Startup Error?

The JAS 39 Gripen (Griffin) made its maiden flight in December 1988 and entered service with the Swedish Air Force in 1997. A total of 204 aircraft in three batches were ordered by the Swedish Air Force, of which 74 aircraft have been delivered to date.

The JAS 39 became Sweden’s first true multirole fighter aircraft – capable of interception, ground attack and reconnaissance. It’s currently offered in two modern variants: the C and E series, but even those are in need of some updates and last month it was announced that the Gripen C series would enter an ‘upgrade process’ which could see these models remain in operation until at least 2035.

The Swedish Defense Material Administration (FMV) awarded a SEK 500 million ($52 million) contract. with Saab to provide maintenance services for the fighter jet. Saab will provide performance upgrades for the JAS 39 to maintain its operational relevance over the next decade, as well as cost-effective solutions that will help sustain the aircraft for an even longer period.

Only 158 Gripens have been produced to date and the aircraft has been exported around the world in relatively small numbers. Current operators only include Brazil, the Czech Republic, Hungary, South Africa and Thailand, while the UK’s Empire Test Pilots’ School also operates Gripens in a training capacity.

However, in June the Czech Republic announced that it intends to acquire more than 24 new fighter jets as the lease on its Gripen fleet expires in 2027. The Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II was viewed as a leading contender, however Fredrik Jörgensen, Swedish Ambassador to the Czech Republic, had said in a recent interview that the Czech Air Force could keep the Gripens who leased it from Sweden for free.

In contrast, more than a dozen nations around the world have adopted the Lockheed Martin F-35 Flash II.

A big factor is that it offers greater compatibility among America’s allies and partners, including a number of NATO members.

Perhaps views could change now that Sweden has officially asked to join the alliance.

Then there’s the fact that the F-35 is an actual one Fifth generation multirole aircraft with stealth abilities, while the Swedish Gripen is still just an advanced fourth generation fighter.

Given the threats from Russia, it may not be about politics, but about skills.

YES 39
JAS 39. Credit: Creative Commons.
YES 39
JAS39 Gripen. Photo credit: Creative Commons.
YES 39
JAS 39. Credit: Creative Commons.
YES 39
JAS 39. Credit: Creative Commons.

Expert Biography: Peter Suciu, Senior Editor for 1945, is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites with over 3,000 published articles from a twenty-year career in journalism. He writes regularly on military hardware, the history of firearms, cybersecurity and international affairs. Peter is one too Contributing Author for Forbes. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.


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