Military Aviation

The Saab Gripen is able to Dogfight and Win Against (Almost) Any Dissimilar Aircraft. Former Swedish Air Force Flight Engineer explains how.

‘The F-15 can stay out of a fight with a Gripen, keep it on distance, BVR if they can see it and avoid the Meteors, but it is not a wise strategy to engage,’ Stefan Englund , former Swedish Air Force Flight Engineer.

Meeting stringent requirements in terms of flight safety, availability, agility, training and life cycle cost, the Saab JAS-39 Gripen represents the ultimate in operational efficiency. In short, the Gripen is a supportable front-line fighter capable of fulfilling a range of roles, either alone or as part of a wider defence network. State-of-the-art technology, modern materials, integrated computer systems and advanced aerodynamics have produced a high-performance fighter with predictable life cycle costs.

The JAS-39 is the backbone of several air forces around the world today.

To counter and defeat advanced future threats, Saab developed the Gripen E-series as a new fighter aircraft system. The E-series is for customers with more pronounced threats or wider territories to secure.

Built for full NATO interoperability, Gripen has successfully participated in NATO-led operations as well as numerous exercises and air policing assignments.

‘Gripen first participated in Red Flag 2006 with the Gripen A,’ says Stefan Englund , former Swedish Air Force Flight Engineer on Quora. ‘It was assigned to the red team. Reduced AWACS, reduced ground support. The Gripens connected their link systems and acted themselves as AWACs, got the battlefield awareness necessary and avoided all ground defence, scored 10 kills the first day including a Typhoon. No losses they remained undetected. One Gripen pilot knocked down five F-16 block 50+ during close air combat in Red Flag Alaska. And the Gripens never lost any aerial encounter or failed their mission objectives. It was the only fighter that performed all planed starts, while others were sitting on the ground waiting for the weather to clear up. The evaluation was that Gripen capacity needed to be revaluated.

‘And no disrespect to any other fighters, including Norwegian pilots because they’re just as well trained, but during a combat exercise with the Royal Norwegain Air Force, 3 Swedish Gripens went up against 5 RNAF F-16’s. The Result was 5-0, 5-0, 5-1 after having flown 3 rounds.

Saab JAS-39 Gripen fighter aircraft

Englund continues: ‘During Loyal Arrow in Sweden, 3 F-15C’s from the USAF were intercepted by a Gripen acting as an aggressor. The result was 2 F-15’s shot down and one managed to escape due to better thrust/weight. To the F-15s defence it was on the Gripens back yard.

‘F-16 has a higher TWR [thrust to weight ratio], but one need to consider drag and wing loading too. The Gripen has much lower drag. And far lower wing loading. It can reach supersonic speeds on dry thrust while carrying a full armament of four AMRAAM’s two Sidewinders and an external fuel tank. Even though the Gripen lacks the TWR of the F-16 it can nearly match it in climb rate thanks to low drag.

‘The Gripen is among the most underestimated fighters flying today, during the Libyan campaign it came in as a tactical resource but very soon was upgraded to a strategic resource. Also here, no mission was cancelled due to technical issues on the Gripen. And no, it is not invincible, just underestimated. The F-15 can stay out of a fight with a Gripen, keep it on distance, BVR if they can see it and avoid the Meteors, but it is not a wise strategy to engage.’

The E-series has a new and more powerful engine, improved range performance and the ability to carry greater payloads. It also has a new AESA-radar, InfraRed Search and Track system, highly advanced electronic warfare and communication systems together with superior situational awareness. The E-series redefines air power for the 21st century by extending operational capabilities.

Englund concludes;

‘The only plane that Gripen E should be compared with will be the F-35,’ points out Englund. ‘As the people describing F-35 use to say “They will not even know what hit them”. Gripen E looks just like a Gripen but it is a completely new fighter, with completely new features and capabilities more or less only comparable to the F-35 with the difference that Gripen E is not built with stealth technology even if it has a lower RCS than any other fighter except F-35 and F-22 and probably but not certain, the Russian and Chinese stealth. Gripen will be equipped with a GaN [gallium nitride] based EW-suite which probably will make it a ghost.’

Gripen E

Photo credit: MINDEF Singapore, Arz1969 (Ministry of Defense – Lithuania), via Wikimedia Commons and Saab

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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  • This article is a great misleading text. The Griloen was developed by Saab, a small standalone company which has very small resources when compared to the giant tech US aviation industry. The amount of combat knowledge, enemy Intel, test flights, performed by bigger companies vs Saab results in a flop fighter that looks very good on paper, but is no match to much older 4th generation fighters.
    Exercise results are often not showing the whole truth. Many countries participate to gather Intel and not to train, and training kills are not passed in order to keep classified information, such as missiles time of flight and radar pickup ranges, away from scrutiny. The Grippen lacks the interoperability of most western jets, is not able to turn and burn in a dogfight but it's biggest flaw is where the world is moving with 5th generation fighters, it's radar criss section. Even tough 4th generation fighters are not stealth the Grippen has a RCR of a Carrier which puts it in a great disadvantage in any full up conflict, that alone is enough to make it a failure. It surely can perform routine interceptions and close air support, but is no match even for any other 4.5gen jets as the Raffle or the Typhoon, and even against much older platforms as the F-16, F-18 or F-15 the Grippen doesn't stand a chance. Saab is very strong as far as business goes, they tend to offer counterparts, establish factories in the buying countries making the jet very attractive for political reasons.

    If one looks at the list of operators it should be easy to realize that no major Air Force has chosen the Grippen besides being so good on paper. That should give the public enough hints that the Grippen isn't as good as one might think.

  • The comment by Mr Hugo Jorge above shows a surprisingly big ignorance about Gripen. The only part that is correct is that SAAB is a smaller company than the big US complex. But that is the only true comment.
    Gripen E's situation awareness is in every sense comparable to F35. Swedish Air Force has used tactical datalink information between ground and aircraft since the 60-ties, and then developed this extensively between aircrafts way above most 4-4.5 fighters today. The proprietary protocol is much faster than NATO Link 16 and effectively makes a group of Gripens their own awacs, as mentioned in the article.
    That Gripen is a sitting duck for any other 4-4.5 fighter is also deeply false, as real USAF and NATO pilots who have met Gripen in big and extremely demanding and complex exercises can witness about. The physical radar signature of a Gripen is also not as a "carrier" but a fraction of F-16, F-18 etc. Add to that a highly competitive ECM. It is already now in version C/D regarded as a ghost by NATO colleagues. The onboard sw of the Gripen E is built like an "iPhone" with a basic system for the aircraft itself, and everything else as "applike" modules that can we switched or updated within hours without having to make regression tests of the entire sw suite, as in most other aircrafts. That flexibility is unique and very adaptable depending on the tactical situation.
    Finally the Gripen is fully integrated with almost every USAF or NATO weapon system. It has for several years operated AMRAAMs, Meteors, IrisT etc, etc, as well as NATO CAS weapons. SAAB themselves claim that they already have, or can integrate almost any weapon system into the Gripen due to the sw flexibilty.
    Gripen is by no means invincible, just severely underestimated by amateur "military experts". The real service people in the USAF who have another much deeper and hands-on experience of the Gripen express themselves much more carefully - and respectfully.

  • Czech Republic leased 14 Gripens, modified to comply with NATO standards.
    (The Czech Republic will purchase F-35 fighters to replace current fleet of Gripen fighters)
    Hungarian Air Force operates a total of 14 Gripen aircraft under lease.
    South Africa has 26 Gripens (C/D) None flying due to lack of maintenance contract.
    Thailand has 6, 2 - C's and 4 -- 2 seat D-modles.
    Brazil has ordered 40 Gripens E/F, has received at least 2 in 2022. They have a requirement of 108 Gripens. Overall not a strong case for the Gripen, has the Gripen won a sales competition against the F-35?

    "Gripen E’s situation awareness is in every sense comparable to F35" - Would you care to elaborate on this? Does it have MALD, EOTS, DAS ...

    At a cost of ~61 million for the Gripen E/F it is not much cheaper than the $80 million for a 5th generation F-35A which has internal weapon carriage, much more range, more sensors built in, true sensor fusion and a radar cross section that is at least 100 times smaller and has a much bigger payload.

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