Gripen’s reinforced landing gear: an edge over Ukrainian F-16s

Just days ago near Gothenburg, Sweden, the Swedish Air Force [SAF] demonstrated a precision landing on a civilian highway with its indigenous Gripen fighters. NATO, which recently accepted Sweden as a member, did not miss the opportunity to show on video how the Swedish fighter plane landed. 

Ukraine: We will get either F-16 or Gripen, talks are underway
Photo credit: PixaBay

Why does this focus on the revealed capability of the Swedish flagship? In fact, the Gripen’s ability to use civilian road facilities is not new. On the contrary – the design of the Gripen was planned long before the war in Ukraine began. According to some domestic and international experts, the Gripen is the only Western aircraft that can challenge the air superiority of the Russian Sukhoi and Mikoyan in terms of maneuverability. 

The Swedish Gripen has a reinforced landing gear. This allows it to land on not-so-smooth asphalt surfaces, unlike those laid on airport runways. Additionally, the landing gear is taller, which provides greater ground clearance to the Gripen’s fuselage. For this reason, the possibility of the jet’s intake sucking up debris, dirt, gunk, etc. is kept to a minimum compared to other Western fighters. 

How is the Gripen’s landing gear an advantage?

To explain it in very simple terms, we will replace Ukraine with Sweden. Imagine Sweden fighting a Russian invasion. The country does not operate Su-27s, MiG-29s, or F-16s. There is no F-35 either; there is only the Gripen. 

BulgarianMilitary.com has repeatedly done this analysis, and it has been observed that the Gripen’s reinforced undercarriage means the aircraft can be continuously located in places not perceived as military sites. The Gripen can be serviced on-site in minutes, including refueling and rearming. This design feature, together with the reinforced undercarriage, means the Swedes can hide the Gripens directly in forests near any quality roads. Russian intelligence will not be able to track the maneuvers of the Swedish command. 

If Russia pollutes the runways, the US F-16 becomes unusable
Photo by US Air Force/Senior Airman Erica Webster

Now we bring Ukraine back into the equation, and the picture is this: the F-16 can take off from extremely smooth runways. The F-16’s jet intake is much closer to the tarmac, which means it is more likely to suck in dirt that could damage the engine. F-16 maintenance is not done on-site but in depots and takes longer. This means that it is enough for Russian aviation to bomb the runways or contaminate them to prevent the Ukrainian F-16s from taking off.

A flexible combat solution

The recent landing of the Gripen on a civilian road aligns with Sweden’s tradition of flexible combat deployment, a strategy that has gained increased focus following Sweden’s admission into NATO. 

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

“In scenarios where airbases, airports, or alternate landing strips are compromised or unavailable, the JAS 39 Gripen fighters are capable of landing on specially designed roads. These roads are engineered to support landings by fighter jets. Once on the ground, the Gripens utilize a mobile forward arming and refueling point [FARP], refueling in just minutes before they take off again,” according to a report from DVIDS. 

Similarly, the United States Air Force’s 354th Fighter Squadron and Michigan Air National Guard’s 127th Wing used a state highway during the Northern Strike 21 large-scale training exercise in August 2021. Here, four A-10 Thunderbolt IIs successfully landed on a civilian roadway in the U.S. 

Moreover, the UK’s Royal Air Force [RAF] demonstrated the landing of its Eurofighter Typhoons on a single-lane road in Tervo, Finland. This test aimed to evaluate the aircraft’s ability to survive an attack and continue operations from a remote location with minimal ground support. Although this was the first time the RAF participated in such exercises, landing on remote roads is a standard component of Finnish Air Force pilot training. 

Give Ukraine a Gripen, the F-16 can't give what the Swede can
Photo by Milan Nykodym

Gripen will have a partner

For years, the Swedish Gripen aircraft has been defined by experts as superior to the F-16, even in its latest version, Block 70. But the hype is not as big as the “American bird” gets. More recently, news broke that Sweden is starting work on designing a next-generation fighter jet. 

Some sources have suggested that the Future Fighter System [FFS] program will replace the Gripen in the Swedish Air Force. SAAB informed BulgarianMilitary.com in an email that the Gripen will continue to fly for a very long time and perform defensive capabilities to protect the country’s territory. And it cannot be otherwise, since SAAB’s plans are not limited to local production but have reached all the way to Brazil. 

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

Realizing the quality of the current Gripen-E, its flexible capabilities, and comparable maneuverability, we cannot help but ask ourselves the question: of the three European programs for a future fighter, whether today, on paper, we would trust the one that starts its development the latest. This is the Swedish one, and the chance to be the most successful is huge!

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