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Why does India say NO to the Swedish Gripen JAS-39 fighter?

On March 5, Indian Prime Minister Modi met his Swedish counterpart Stefan Lofven in an online meeting. The two leaders are said to have discussed important issues on various topics, including the sale of Gripen fighters. There will be big competitors, including Boeing’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, Lockheed Martin’s F-21 (USA); Dassault Rafale (France); MiG-35, Su-35 (Russia) and Eurofighter Typhoon (Europe).

With its light weight, low radar cross section and ability to penetrate enemy air defenses, the Gripen NG is considered a modern 4+ generation fighter. The Swedish Gripen NG has a delta-canard wing configuration; equipped with a digital fly-by-wire system. Its radar, for “look down/ѕhσσt dσwn ” capabilities and a built-in “track while scanning” feature, helps the pilot assess multiple targets in real time.

What is different about Gripen NG is the data link, which is considered the most advanced in the world. Data links are key to modern air cσmbat, and the future of air cσmbat depends heavily on them. It is also equipped with a missile approach warning (MAW) system and is capable of carrying more chaff packets and flares compared with similar aircraft, enhancing its survivability. A pre-set level of situational awareness gives the Gripen NG pilot unprecedented simplicity and a decisive advantage.

Another important feature of the Gripen NG, is the variety of ωεɑρσռ ranges it can carry; including the advanced Meteor beyond visual range air-to-air missile (BVRAAM) with a range of about 150 km, which the Rafale is currently armed with. The Gripen E variant is capable of carrying up to 7 MBDA Meteor missiles. The aircraft is equipped with the Leonardo ES-05 Raven active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, along with the Leonardo Skyward G infrared search and track sensor (IRST).

According to aviation experts, SAAB Gripen is the cheapest modern light fighter aircraft today. In 2015, SAAB signed a contract with Brazil to sell and manufacture in Brazil 36 Gripens, for $4.68 billion; half of what India paid for the same number of Rafales from France. According to the SAAB representative, Gripen has the same ωεɑρσռs package as the Rafale, including the Meteor air-to-air missile package, and Gripen can use all NATO missiles, except for the French SCALP cruise missile.

SAAB even offered to integrate the SCALP missile with the Gripen if India wanted. Both Meteor and SCALP are manufactured by the European arms company MBDA. However, even with all these guarantees, the Swedish Gripen NG fighter failed to impress the Indian Air Force. The reason turned out to be that the Gripen NG did not meet the specifications and capabilities that the IAF was looking for. And there are many other factors that decision makers must take into account when handling such large procurement orders. The main reason why India said no to the Gripen was that SAAB decided to sell the early warning aircraft system to Pakistan, which helped the Pakistani Air Force in the air battle with the Indian Air Force in 2019.

After the Indian air strike on Balakot in Pakistan, one of the important aircraft deployed by Pakistan was the Erieye Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) aircraft from SAAB. Erieye’s features are considered dangerous for IAF aircraft. Another factor, according to experts, is Sweden’s low political influence in major international forums; where other countries like France or the US or Russia have the upper hand. As it turns out, money isn’t the only thing that matters in such large transactions.