Sweden is considering sending Gripen fighter jets to Ukraine, according to a new report.
Lawmakers in Stockholm plan to ask the military to look into the possibility of a transfer.
Officials in Kyiv have long had their eyes set on Sweden's highly capable JAS 39 Gripen.
Sweden is looking into the possibility of sending its Gripen fighter jets to Ukraine, according to a new report, as Kyiv continues to push for advanced aircraft and training from the US and partners in Europe.
Western-made combat jets have long topped Ukraine's wishlist for weaponry it believes will help it battle the invading Russian forces. Though the American-made F-16 gets a lot of attention, officials in Kyiv have also had their eyes on the JAS 39 Gripen, a formidable and highly capable aircraft that could give their air force — currently consisting of Soviet-era fighters — a much-needed boost in the sky.
Sweden's government plans to ask the country's military to look into if its possible to send Gripens to Ukraine, Swedish public radio reported on Tuesday. The investigation will explore how the transfer of these fighter jets might affect the country's defense readiness and how quickly new ones could be made to replace those delivered to Kyiv.
Even if Stockholm agrees to send Gripen fighter jets to Ukraine, because it would first take time to consider the transfer and then train Ukrainian pilots, the fighter jets likely wouldn't see combat experience until mid-2024 at the earliest, the report said. Sweden's government did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment on the matter.
The Gripen was built with the idea of taking on Russia without the benefit of NATO. Experts consider the Gripen to be a very effective and capable fighter jet that can be armed with advanced air-to-air missiles, including very long-range weapons, and air-to-surface missiles and bombs. They are relatively inexpensive to operate, require less runway space for taking off and landing, can operate from more rugged, austere locations, and are easy to maintain. Additionally, their electronic-warfare capabilities were specifically designed to counter the radars of both Russian jets and ground-based air-defense systems, which have proven to be a headache for Ukrainian forces.
"It is worth noting that of the currently available Western fighter aircraft that could possibly be supplied, the Swedish Saab Gripen C/D offers by far the most suitable candidate in terms of operational requirements," experts at the UK-based Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) wrote in a November 2022 analysis of Ukraine's air-defense requirements.
"Conceptually," the experts wrote, "the Swedish Air Force has always emphasised low-level air superiority tactics from dispersed bases, in a similar manner to how the Ukrainian Air Force currently operates, and so the Gripen was designed with ground support equipment and maintenance requirements compatible with that approach."
In contrast with the Gripens, American-made F-16s — on which Ukrainian pilots are currently training — are more expensive to fly, require more maintainers, and are less flexible when it comes to operational requirements. But Gripens are yet to see actual combat experience, and there is also the issue of the limited stockpiles from which Kyiv is looking to obtain the jets.
The combat-proven F-16, on the other hand, is available in arsenals across NATO, along with key support systems and spare parts.
Sweden has repeatedly ruled out sending Gripens to Ukraine, claiming that it needs to retain the aircraft it has to protect its own national security interests. Stockholm has several dozen aircraft in its arsenal, including about 80 of the Gripen C variants, and Kyiv reportedly hopes to receive between 16 and 18 jets. Moreso, only six countries operate the fighter, and only two of them — Sweden and the Czech Republic — support the Ukrainians with military aid.
Although Sweden has poured cold water on the idea of sending Gripens to Kyiv, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said last month that his country's service members were already starting to test out the fighter jets. "Step by step, negotiation by negotiation, we are getting closer to the fact that Gripen fighters will appear in our sky," he said in an address to the nation.
In the meantime, there's been significant movement on F-16s. A plan by NATO members and partners, though, to train Ukrainians on the F-16s suggests that Kyiv could eventually learn to operate "other types of fighter aircrafts" at "a later stage" The undated copy of the F-16 training plan, which Insider obtained from the Danish defense ministry last month, did not specify which aircraft this could be.
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