JAS 39 Gripen C/D Fighter Is a Beast in the Sky

JAS 39 Gripen
February 28, 2024 Topic: Security Region: Europe Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: JAS 39Jas 39 GripenMilitaryDefenseSwedenUkraineRussia

JAS 39 Gripen C/D Fighter Is a Beast in the Sky

Hungary has reinforced its air defense capabilities by purchasing four JAS 39 Gripen C/D fighters from Swedish aerospace company Saab, adding to its existing fleet of 14 Gripens acquired in 2001.

Summary: Hungary has reinforced its air defense capabilities by purchasing four JAS 39 Gripen C/D fighters from Swedish aerospace company Saab, adding to its existing fleet of 14 Gripens acquired in 2001. This move diverges from NATO members Canada and the Czech Republic, which opted for the F-35. The deal enhances Hungary's commitment to NATO and includes a memorandum of understanding for further defense and technology collaboration with Saab. Meanwhile, Sweden considers supporting Ukraine with Gripen fighters, highlighting the aircraft's versatility in interception, ground attack, and reconnaissance roles, and its strategic relevance in countering Russian military threats.

Swedish aerospace firm Saab has attempted to court buyers for its JAS Gripen jet fighter – which has been widely marketed as an alternative to the Lockheed Martin F-35 multirole stealth aircraft. While NATO members Canada and the Czech Republic opted for the F-35, Hungary went in another direction.

In advance of Budapest's approval of Sweden's bid to join the international alliance, the Hungarian government announced it had signed a deal to buy four JAS 39 Gripen C/D fighters. The Hungarian Air Force already operates 14 of the aircraft as part of an agreement that was reached back in December 2001.

"With the Gripen fighter, Hungary has one of Europe's most capable air forces. We look forward to continuing our close collaboration with the Hungarian Government and defense industry," Micael Johansson, president and CEO of Saab, said in the statement.

Saab also noted that it currently has a contract with the Swedish Defence Materiel Administration (FMV) regarding support for Hungary's Gripen aircraft, while the company is also ready to provide additional upgrades and support for the Hungarian fighters beyond 2035. Saab and the Hungarian Ministry of Defense further signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) regarding the development of high-tech industrial areas and fighter aircraft capabilities, while the cooperation includes support for the establishment of a Centre of Excellence for VR technologies in Hungary.

"We not only keep our air defense capability but will increase it ... which means our commitment to NATO will strengthen and so will our participation in NATO's joint operations," Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban told a joint press conference with Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson earlier this month.

According to Breaking Defense, Hungary was the third country – behind Sweden and the Czech Republic – to operate the Gripen C/D planes, initially acquired under a lease agreement for 12 single-seaters (Gripen C) and a pair of two-seaters (Gripen D). The jets are in service with the Hungarian Air Force’s Puma squadron, based out of Keskemét Air Force Base, and are responsible for protecting Hungarian national and Slovenian air space, as well as taking part in NATO Baltic Air Policing missions.

JAS 39 Gripens for Ukraine?

It was also this month that Muharrem Demirok, leader of Sweden's Social Democrat opposition Center Party, called on the ruling conservative government to move quickly on plans to transfer the JAS 39 Gripen fighter aircraft to Ukraine, now that Sweden has overcome its last hurdle to joining NATO.

The Swedish legislature broadly supports moving forward on handing over an as-yet undetermined number of potent combat aircraft to Ukraine, the Kyiv Post reported on Tuesday. A final decision is expected.

Stockholm has been inching closer to supplying the aircraft to aid Kyiv, but it could a year or longer for any Gripens to actually arrive in Ukraine.

The Gripen is the first true Swedish multirole combat aircraft. In addition to being rugged enough to operate from little more than a remote road, it is capable of conducting interception, ground attack, and reconnaissance. Though it is a mature program, having taken its first flight more than three decades ago, the aircraft remains highly capable and very agile.

JAS 39 Gripen

It also important to note that the JAS 39 was developed at the end of the Cold War to confront Soviet aircraft, and thus would be an ideal warbird for Ukraine to employ in its war against Russia. As of 2016, a total of only 158 Gripens were produced and well over half are in service with the Swedish Air Force, with the rest having 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.

Author Experience and Expertise: Peter Suciu

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu. You can email the author: [email protected].