‘Matters related to NATO’ stop sending Gripen to Ukraine for now

Ukraine’s Minister of Defense, Rustem Umerov, his deputy Lieutenant General Ivan Khavrylyuk, and the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces of Sweden, General Mikael Büden, recently convened for a meeting. In this gathering, the focus was on exploring the potential for enhanced defense collaboration between Ukraine and Sweden as per several Ukrainian reports. 

SAAB JAS 39 Gripen fighter jet
Photo by Sgt Müller Marin

The pivotal subject of potentially transferring the JAS 39 Gripen aircraft to the Ukrainian armed forces was discussed at length during this meeting. Deputy Minister Ivan Gavrilyuk, quoted in the press release of the IOU about the Gripen, mentioned that “some associated issues are tied to NATO. However, he remained optimistic, stating that “we’re hopeful that our combined efforts will lead to the acquisition of these aircraft”. 

This significant information about the JAS 39 Gripen transfer is of note, especially following Sweden’s earlier promise in November to make a decision about transferring these aircraft to Ukraine. Yet, that promised decision is still awaited.

Give Ukraine a Gripen, the F-16 can't give what the Swede can
Photo credit: RSAF

Sweden also promised something else

The Swedish government had initially linked the decision under consideration to Stockholm’s potential membership in NATO; however, this matter remained unresolved. 

Swedish Defense Minister, Paul Jonsson raised another important point about the ‘aviation coalition’ back in October 2023. This concerns Sweden’s potential involvement in the training of our F-16 pilots. To date, we’ve seen no movements on this front.

NATO membership

Stockholm’s defense capabilities are heavily influenced by a range of factors, the most noteworthy of which, is its pending application for NATO membership since May 2022. Without NATO’s influence, Stockholm must build and rely on its self-defense capabilities. This puts them on the challenging path of transitioning from the older Gripen C/D to the upgraded Gripen E/F. 

In recent news, the Swedish defense agency, FMV, celebrated the arrival of their first production Gripen E in early October, following the acquisition of two pre-production models. However, it’s essential to mention that the agency acts as an intermediary between the manufacturer and the army, easing the procurement process of weaponry for the Ministry of Defense. Therefore, these machines are not yet part of the Air Force’s arsenal. 

Presently, all three Gripen E models, as reported by FMV, are being tested. The Swedish Air Force is set to acquire and deploy these machines no earlier than 2025. Hence, the phased exit of the older Gripen C/D fighters will not commence before this year. 

Sweden's Gripen gets new EW, comm- and reconnaissance systems
Photo credit: SAAB

Taking this into account, in 2020, the Swedish Ministry of Defense extended the service life of the Gripen C/D model until 2030, or until their entire fleet transitions to the new Gripen E/F. At the time of writing, the number of functioning Gripen fighters is recorded at 96 units.

There is another option

One viable option that could still enable Sweden to transfer Gripen C/D fighters to Ukraine lies in an occurrence from 2019. Interestingly, a minor controversy arose in Sweden when, in a bid to smoothly transition the Saab production line from Gripen C/D to Gripen E/F without experiencing any downtime, the government commissioned the production of 14 fuselages from the older model. 

Give Ukraine a Gripen, the F-16 can't give what the Swede can
Photo credit: RSAF

The production yielded ten single-seat versions and four two-seaters of these 14 fuselages. While it’s improbable that these would come fully equipped with all the necessary avionics, parts, and assembly components, they present a significantly substantial resource for potentially strengthening the Air Force of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. 

However, a possible obstacle in capitalizing on this resource is Saab’s production capacity. In 2019, Saab reportedly had 30 Gripen E/F jets in production concurrently, which arguably consumed their entire production output. Moreover, there’s also the business aspect related to transforming these fuselages into operational aircraft to consider.

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