JAS-39 Gripen soars in Asia taking advantage of Philippine edge

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Sweden and the Philippines are currently at the negotiating table, focusing on a deal to acquire an unspecified number of JAS 39 Gripen fighter jets. The “final terms of defense cooperation” are currently being discussed, building on a Memorandum of Understanding that was initially signed in the summer of 2023 and later endorsed by both nations in September. 

Photo credit: SAAB

As we approach March 2024, the anticipation surges for the conclusion of administrative processes. At this point, both Sweden and the Philippines are expected to finalize a peer-to-peer agreement on the procurement of the Gripen jets. 

The manufacturer, Saab, hails from Sweden and has an established track record in the region. A successful example is a $300 million deal negotiated with Thailand in 2008 for the delivery of Gripen jets. 

From the Philippines’ perspective, formalizing this acquisition marks the end of a two-decade-long journey to rejuvenate their aviation capacity. This journey began back in 2005 with the retirement of their previous fighter squadron, the F-5.

Intermediate step

In 2013, the Philippines took a significant step forward when they arranged to purchase 12 FA-50 combat trainers from South Korea. However, discussions continued with potential combat aircraft suppliers. 

Photo by Sgt Müller Marin

Dating back to the 1990s, the Philippines had demonstrated their interest in acquiring F-16 fighter jets from the United States. Nonetheless, it wasn’t until 2021 that the matter actually progressed to a practical phase. This progression occurred when the State Department approved the delivery of 10 F-16C Block 70/72 aircraft and two F-16D Block 70/72 jets, all with a staggering cumulative value of $2.43 billion. Unfortunately, this authorized delivery never came to fruition because the Philippines could only allocate a budget of $1 billion for this purpose.

The first advantage

In 2022, Sweden put forth a proposal to deliver JAS 39 Gripen fighter jets. The precise number of these aircraft and their associated costs have not been disclosed yet. Notably, Saab has made a commitment to the Philippines. They explicitly guaranteed the ability to integrate the coastal defense systems with the air apparatus of the fighter jets into a single situational awareness chain. This point served as an extra persuasive factor for the Philippines.

Photo credit: Twitter

The second advantage

As we usher in 2022, international observers of politics and military affairs are hinting that Sweden is already gaining traction against the American proposal. In what many perceive as a late-game strategy, Stockholm extended an invitation to General Connor Anthony David Kanlas, offering him a hands-on experience in a Gripen. This gesture was reciprocated by General Steven P. Pareño, the current head of the Philippine Air Force. 

The Swedish charm offensive didn’t just cease there; it also extended its influence across Europe. The Philippine President, Mr. Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr., received a courteous invitation to Brussels from the Swedish Prime Minister, Mr. Ulf Kristersson. Taking advantage of the European Union summit, Mr. Kristersson and Mr. Marcos Jr. held a behind-closed-doors meeting. Industry insiders hint that the primary discussion centered around the potential lease of Gripen fighters to meet the Philippines’ operational needs. 

Photo credit: SAAB

A significant offer seems to be on the table for the Philippines. Sweden is rumored to be considering throwing in ‘dressed aircraft’ – fully outfitted and armed to the teeth. In this aspect, the Gripen holds an advantage over the American F-16 as well. The proposed package reportedly includes the top-tier, long-range Meteor air-to-air missile, and the formidable RBS-15 Mk.III anti-ship missiles. Military pundits believe that with these two types of missiles in their arsenal, the Philippine Air Force would be in a position to resist any territorial claims made by China.

JAS-39 Gripen

The JAS-39 Gripen is a lightweight, single-engine multi-role fighter aircraft manufactured by the Swedish aerospace company, Saab. It was designed to replace the Saab 35 Draken and 37 Viggen in the Swedish Air Force. The Gripen, featuring a delta wing and canard configuration, boasts a relaxed stability design and fly-by-wire flight controls. 

Propelling the Gripen is a Volvo RM12 engine, an after-burning turbofan military jet engine influenced by the General Electric F404. This engine empowers the Gripen to achieve a maximum speed of Mach 2 at high altitude, roughly 1,400 kilometers per hour at  low altitude, and a rate of climb of 50,000 feet per minute. 

The aircraft’s operational range is indeed noteworthy. With internal fuel, the Gripen can cover a distance of 800 kilometers. However, with external drop tanks, the range can be extended impressively to 3,200 kilometers. Furthermore, the Gripen has an excellent ferry range of 4,000 kilometers.

‘Combat face’

The Gripen’s combat capabilities are significantly enhanced by its advanced avionics. It boasts a sensor suite featuring a PS-05/A pulse-Doppler X-band radar, capable of look-up and look-down/shoot-down, ground mapping, and air-to-sea functionality. The Gripen also possesses a helmet-mounted display system and a state-of-the-art glass cockpit. 

Photo credit: SAAB

When it comes to armament, the Gripen comes fully loaded. It carries a 27mm Mauser BK27 revolver cannon with 120 rounds. Additionally, the aircraft is equipped with eight hardpoints, designed to carry a broad array of weapons. These include air-to-air missiles such as the AIM-9 Sidewinder and AIM-120 AMRAAM, as well as air-to-surface weapons like the AGM-65 Maverick. To top it all, the Gripen can also launch anti-ship missiles such as the RBS-15 and carry various types of bombs, including laser-guided ones. 

All in all, the JAS-39 Gripen is an enormously versatile and competent multirole fighter. Its melding of advanced avionics, a powerful engine, and a broad selection of armament options render it an imposing aircraft in a wide array of combat scenarios.

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