Ukraine’s ongoing war with Russia has highlighted the need for advanced fighter jets to bolster its air capabilities. While the request for F-16s from Western countries gains momentum, experts suggest that the lesser-known Swedish JAS 39 Gripen may better fit Ukraine’s unique needs and challenges on the battlefield.

The Ukrainian Air Force’s Dilemma

During the 16-month war, Kyiv and Moscow struggled to establish air dominance. Neither has. Nonetheless, Russia enjoys a technological edge and numerical superiority regarding aircraft, posing a significant challenge to Ukraine’s ground forces. In response, Ukraine has persistently sought Western countries’ support to acquire venerable F-16 fighter jets, and the efforts appear to be bearing fruit.

Russian invasion of Ukraine, as of 24 July 2023 (Image source: Wikimedia Commons)

The Gripen: A Unique Contender

While Ukraine seeks F-16s, experts suggest that the Swedish Gripen, the JAS 39, might be an ideal solution for the country’s air war requirements.

The Gripen’s impressive features, including the ability to reach Mach 2 and fly at supersonic speeds without an afterburner, make it an attractive option.

Additionally, its suite of advanced air-to-air missiles (such as IRIS-T, AIM-120 AMRAAM, and the cutting-edge Meteor), electronic warfare capabilities designed with Russian systems in mind, and its cost-effectiveness are all attributes that Ukraine finds appealing.

The Gripen’s user-friendly design is a potential fit for Ukrainian pilots who may be more accustomed to Soviet-era jets. It requires minimal ground crew training, making maintenance relatively straightforward and cost-effective. Furthermore, the Gripen’s short-takeoff-and-landing capability allows it to operate from small airfields and highways, which could prove crucial if Russian forces target larger airfields.

Despite the Swedish aircraft’s attractiveness, it has faced stiff competition in previous contract competitions, often losing out to the US-made F-35 stealth jet. Yet, Ukrainian officials believe that the Gripen presents a unique opportunity to showcase its capabilities in combat. This potential combat experience could benefit Sweden’s marketing efforts to promote the Gripen globally.