Saab JAS 39 Gripen fighter: Aircraft profile

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Gripen is the first of the new generation, multi-role combat aircraft to enter service. Using the latest available technology it is capable of performing an extensive range of air-to-air and air-to-surface operational missions and employs the latest weapons.

Saab JAS 39 Gripen fighter: Gripen NG Demonstrator with Iris-T, Meteor and GBU10. Photographer: Katsuhiko TOKUNAGA. Copyright Gripen International.Saab JAS 39 Gripen fighter: Gripen NG Demonstrator with Iris-T, Meteor and GBU10. Photographer: Katsuhiko TOKUNAGA. Copyright Gripen International.

Gripen is in service with the Swedish, Czech Republic and Hungarian Air Forces and has also been ordered by South Africa and Thailand. The UK Empire Test Pilots’ School (ETPS) is also operating Gripen as its advanced fast jet platform for test pilots worldwide.

Gripen was declared operational in the Swedish Air Force in 1997, which has 204 aircraft on order including 28 two seaters and where to date, 198 aircraft have been delivered operating in seven squadrons. Gripen is in full operational service with the Czech Republic Air Force, which has taken delivery of all of its 14 aircraft (12 single-seat and 2 two-seaters) to meet its national, European and NATO defence needs.

Gripen is also in full operational service with the Hungarian Air Force, which has taken delivery of all of its 14 aircraft (12 single-seat and 2 two-seaters) to meet its national, European and NATO needs.

Saab JAS 39 Gripen fighter: Gripen NG Demonstrator with Iris-T, Meteor and GBU10. Photographer: Katsuhiko TOKUNAGA. Copyright Gripen International.Saab JAS 39 Gripen fighter: Gripen NG Demonstrator with Iris-T, Meteor and GBU10. Photographer: Katsuhiko TOKUNAGA. Copyright Gripen International.

The United Kingdom’s (UK) Empire Test Pilots´ School (ETPS) is also operating Gripen as its advanced fast jet platform for test pilots worldwide.

South Africa, Gripen’s first export customer, has ordered a fleet of 26 aircraft (9 two-seat and 17 single seat aircraft) to replace its existing front-line aircraft. Deliveries of South African aircraft commenced in April 2008 and will be completed by 2012.

In October 2007, the government of Thailand approved the procurement of Gripen fighters to replace the Royal Thai Air Force’s ageing F-5 fleet, and in February 2008 Thailand and Sweden signed contracts for the supply of the initial 6 aircraft Gripen aircraft for the Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF).

Source: Gripen International

Saab JAS 39 Gripen fighter: Gripen A. Photographer: Katsuhiko Tokunaga. Copyright Gripen International.Saab JAS 39 Gripen fighter: Gripen A. Photographer: Katsuhiko Tokunaga. Copyright Gripen International.

Detailed background:


The Saab JAS 39 Gripen (Swedish: "griffin") is a 4.5 generation fighter aircraft manufactured by the Swedish aerospace company Saab. Gripen International acts as a prime contracting organisation and is responsible for marketing, selling and supporting the Gripen fighter around the world.

The aircraft is in service with the Swedish Air Force, the Czech Air Force, the Hungarian Air Force and the South African Air Force, and has been ordered by the Royal Thai Air Force. A total of 236 Gripens have been ordered as of 2008.


By the late 1970s a replacement for Sweden's ageing Saab 35 Drakens and Saab 37 Viggens was needed. A new fighter was being considered by 1979, with design studies beginning the following year. The development of the Gripen began in 1982 with approval from Swedish Parliament.

The Gripen was designed for performance, flexibility, effectiveness and survivability in air combat. The designation JAS stands for Jakt (Air-to-Air), Attack (Air-to-Surface), and Spaning (Reconnaissance), indicating that the Gripen is a multirole or swingrole fighter aircraft that can fulfill each mission type. The JAS 39 got its name Gripen through a public competition in 1982. The griffin is the heraldry on Saab's logo and suited the multirole characteristics of the aircraft. Furthermore, the griffin is the symbolic animal on the coat of arms of Östergötland, the province in which Saab AB is headquartered (Linköping).

Sweden chose to develop the Gripen rather than purchase a variant of the F-16, F/A-18A/B, or the "F-5S" version of the Northrop F-20 Tigershark.

The first Gripen was rolled out on 26 April 1987, marking Saab's fiftieth anniversary. The first prototype first flew on 9 December 1988. Teaming agreements

In 1995, Saab Military Aircraft and British Aerospace or BAe (now BAE Systems) formed the joint venture company Saab-BAe Gripen AB, with the goal of adapting, manufacturing, marketing and supporting Gripen internationally. The deal was to take advantage of BAe's global marketing experience. BAe designed an improved wing, which they manufactured, producing approximately 45% of export airframes. BAe also saw the Gripen as a complementary product to its existing aircraft, fitting between its Hawk light attack/trainer and the larger Tornado and Typhoon fighters. This cooperation was extended in 2001 with the formation of Gripen International for the same purpose. In December 2004, Saab and BAE Systems agreed that from January 2005 Saab would take full responsibility for marketing of the Gripen in light of Saab's increased export marketing capabilities.

On 26 April 2007, Norway signed an agreement on a joint development programme of the aircraft regarding co-operation in advanced development work on future versions of the aircraft. The value of the deal, which will allow Norwegian companies to take part, is about NOK 150 million over two years.

In June 2007, Thales Norway A/S and Saab signed a contract concerning the development of communications systems for the Gripen fighter. This order for the Norwegian company is the first to be awarded under the provisions of the Letter of Agreement signed by the Norwegian Ministry of Defence and Gripen International in April 2007.

As part of Gripen International's marketing efforts in Denmark, a deal was signed in December 2007 with Danish technology supplier Terma A/S which allows them to participate in an industrial co-operation programme over the next 10-15 years. The total value of the programme is estimated at over DKK 10 billion, and is partly dependent on Denmark choosing the Gripen.

Saab JAS 39 Gripen fighter: Gripen Air-to-Air refueling from Boeing C-135FR/KC-135R. Photographer: FMV. Copyright Gripen International.Saab JAS 39 Gripen fighter: Gripen Air-to-Air refueling from Boeing C-135FR/KC-135R. Photographer: FMV. Copyright Gripen International.

Gripen NG

A two-seat "New Technology Demonstrator" has been built, and was presented on 23 April 2008. It has increased fuel capacity, a more powerful powerplant, increased payload capacity, upgraded avionics and other improvements. The new aircraft is also referred to as the "Gripen Demo".

The new Gripen NG (Next Generation) will have many new parts and will be powered by the GE/Volvo Aero F414G, a development of the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet's engine. The engine will produce 20% more thrust at 98 kN (22,000 lbf), enabling a supercruise speed of Mach 1.1 with air-to-air missiles.

Compared to the Gripen D, the Gripen NG's max takeoff weight has increased from 14,000 to 16,000 kg (30,900-35,300 lb) with an increase in empty weight of 200 kg (440 lb). Due to relocated main landing gear, the internal fuel capacity has increased by 40%, which will increase ferry range to 4,070 km (2,200 nmi). The new undercarriage configuration also allows for the addition of two heavy stores pylons to the fuselage. Its PS-05/A sensor adds a new active electronically scanned array (AESA) antenna for flight testing beginning in mid-2009.

Gripen Demo's maiden flight was conducted on 27 May 2008. The test flight took about 30 minutes and reached a maximum altitude of about 6,400 meters.


In designing the aircraft, several layouts were studied. Saab ultimately selected an unstable canard design. The canard configuration gives a high onset of pitch rate and low drag, enabling the aircraft to be faster, have longer range and carry a larger payload.

The combination of delta wing and canards gives the Gripen significantly better takeoff and landing performance and flying characteristics. The totally integrated avionics make it a "programmable" aircraft. It also has a built-in electronic warfare unit, making it possible to load more ordnance onto the aircraft without losing self defence capabilities.

The Gripen affords more flexibility than earlier generations of combat aircraft used by Sweden, and its operating costs are about two thirds of those for JA 37 Viggen.

In the Swedish Air Force's list of requirements was the ability to operate from 800 m runways. Early on in the programme, all flights from Saab's facility in Linköping were flown from within a 9 m × 800 m outline painted on the runway. Stopping distance was reduced by extending the relatively large air brakes; using the control surfaces to push the aircraft down, enabling the wheel brakes to apply more force and tilting the canards forwards, making them into large air brakes and further pushing the aircraft down.


The Gripen uses the modern PS-05/A pulse-doppler X-band radar, developed by Ericsson and GEC-Marconi, and based on the latter's advanced Blue Vixen radar for the Sea Harrier (which inspired the Eurofighter's CAPTOR radar as well).

The radar is capable of detecting, locating, identifying and automatically tracking multiple targets in the upper and lower spheres, on the ground and sea or in the air, in all weather conditions. It can guide four air to air missiles (e.g. AIM-120 AMRAAM, MBDA MICA) simultaneously at four different targets.

Saab JAS 39 Gripen fighter: Hungarian Gripen C. Photographer: Lászlo Tóth. Copyright Gripen International.Saab JAS 39 Gripen fighter: Hungarian Gripen C. Photographer: Lászlo Tóth. Copyright Gripen International.


The cockpit has three full colour head down displays and digital emergency instrument presentation unique to the aircraft. The cockpit layout provides a human-machine interface that eases pilot workload substantially and increases situational awareness, but still provides substantial future growth potential. The pilot flies the aircraft by means of a centre stick and left hand throttles.

The cockpit provides a display area some 30 per cent larger than that available in most other fighters, with the multi-function displays taking up around 75 per cent of available space.

It is dominated by three large (15.7 x 21 cm) active-matrix, liquid crystal, multi-function displays and a wide angle (20 x 28 degree) head-up display (HUD). The displays are equipped with light sensors for computer assisted brightness and contrast control.

Expeditionary capabilities

One interesting feature is the Gripen's ability to take off and land on public roads, which was part of Sweden's war defence strategy. The aircraft is designed to be able to operate also if the air force does not have air superiority.

During the Cold war, the Swedish Armed Forces were preparing to defend against a possible invasion from the Soviet Union. Even though the defensive strategy in principle called for an absolute defence of Swedish territory, military planners calculated that Swedish defence forces could eventually be overrun. For that reason, Sweden had military stores dispersed all over the country, in order to maintain the capacity of inflicting damage on the enemy even if military installations were lost.

Accordingly, among the requirements from the Swedish Air Force was that the Gripen fighter should be able to land on public roads near military stores for quick maintenance, and take off again. As a result, the Gripen fighter can be refueled and re-armed in ten minutes by a five man mobile ground crew operating out of a truck, and then resume flying sorties.

In the post-Cold War era, these dispersed operation capabilities have proved to be of great value for a different purpose. The Gripen fighter system is expeditionary in nature, and therefore well suited for peace-keeping missions worldwide, which has become the new main task of the Swedish Armed Forces.

Saab JAS 39 Gripen fighter: The Gripen. Photographer: Katsuhiko TokunagaSaab JAS 39 Gripen fighter: The Gripen. Photographer: Katsuhiko Tokunaga

Operational history

Current operators

The Gripen is in operational service with the Swedish Air Force, which has ordered 204 aircraft (including 28 two-seaters).

The Czech Air Force and the Hungarian Air Force also operate the Gripen, and currently lease 14 Swedish Air Force aircraft each, with the option of eventually acquiring them. In both cases two of the aircraft are two-seaters. The Czech and the Hungarian Air Force are the first Gripen operators within NATO.

Deliveries to the South African Air Force (26 aircraft, including nine two-seaters) commenced in April 2008, and are ongoing. Gripen has also been ordered by the Royal Thai Air Force (six aircraft, four of them two-seaters).

The British based Empire Test Pilots' School (ETPS) is operating Gripen as its advanced fast jet platform for test pilots worldwide.

Potential and future operators


In October 2008, it was reported that the Brazilian Air Force had selected three finalists in their F-X2 program. They are Dassault Rafale, Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and Gripen NG, and the number of aircraft involved are said to be anywhere between 36 and 120. The decision should be made early 2009.


The Croatian Air Force has announced plans to replace their MiG-21 bis aircraft, possibly with either the JAS 39 Gripen or the F-16 Falcon. The final projection calls for 12-18 aircraft. On 27 March 2008, the Swedish Defence Material Administration and Saab responded to Croatia's request for information regarding the procurement of twelve aircraft. The Croatian Air Force is expected to make a decision later in 2008 or 2009.


Denmark has signed a Memorandum of Understanding between the Defence Ministers of Sweden and Denmark to evaluate the Gripen, pending Denmark's future replacement of their fleet of 48 F-16s. Denmark has also requested for the new variants of Gripens to be developed. It will include the package of new avionics, a larger and more powerful engine, larger payload and, most importantly, longer range.


India is evaluating the Gripen for its tender for 126 multi-role combat aircraft. Gripen International handed over its proposal on 28 April 2008. The company is offering the Gripen IN, a version of the Gripen NG for India's tender.

The Netherlands

On 7 July 2008 Dagens Industri reported that the Netherlands announced they will evaluate JAS 39 Gripen Next Generation together with four other competitors and announce the result in the end of 2008. Saab responded on 25 August 2008 to a 'Replacement Questionnaire' issued by the Dutch Ministry of Defence, offering 85 aircraft to the Royal Netherlands Air Force. The Netherlands is evaluating the Gripen NG against the F-35.


On 17 January 2008 the Swiss Defence Material Administration invited Gripen International to submit initial bids for supplying the Gripen as a replacement for their old F-5s. Saab responded with a proposal on 2 July 2008. The exact number of aircraft has not been disclosed.


Bulgaria announced that they are to replace their 20 Mikoyan MiG-29s with possible 16 JAS 39C/D Gripens, or 16 used F-16s. The process is to be completed around 2010.

The Romanian Air Force has announced that they will replace their MiG-21 LanceR aircraft beginning in 2008, possibly with JAS 39 Gripen, F-16 Fighting Falcon or Eurofighter Typhoon.

On 18 January 2008 the Norwegian Ministry of Defence issued a Request for Binding Information (RBI) to the Swedish Defence Material Administration, who responded on 28 April 2008 with a proposal offering 48 aircraft. However, on 20 November 2008 the Norwegian government released a statement that they have selected F-35s for the Norwegian Air Force.

Other nations that are showing interest in the Gripen include Slovakia.



Fighter version that first entered service with the Swedish Air Force in 1996. A modification program has started and 31 of these will be upgraded to C/D standard.


Two-seat version of the A variant. This variant is 2 feet 2 inches longer than the single seat version.


NATO-compatible version of Gripen with extended capabilities in terms of armament, electronics, etc. This variant can also be refueled in flight.


Two-seat version of the C variant.

Gripen Demo

A two-seat technology demonstrator for improvements slated for the Gripen NG.

Gripen NG

(Next Generation) Proposed version with new engine (GE/Volvo Aero F414G), increased fuel capacity, higher payload, upgraded avionics and other improvements.


Current operators

Czech Republic

Czech Air Force: 14 Gripens on lease, including 2 two-seaters.


Hungarian Air Force: 14 Gripens on a lease-and-buy arrangement, including 2 two-seaters (C/D versions). The final three aircraft were delivered in December 2007.

South Africa

South African Air Force: 26 aircraft ordered (down from 28), nine two-seater Ds and 17 single seat Cs. The first delivery, a two-seater, took place on 30 April 2008. As of 15 August 2008, four aircraft have been delivered.


Swedish Air Force: 204 aircraft originally ordered, including 28 two-seaters (138 in service). Sweden leases 28 of the aircraft, including four two-seaters, to the Czech and Hungarian Air Forces. Some aircraft are yet to be delivered. In 2007 the Swedish government decided that the future Swedish Air Force will deploy no more than 100 JAS 39C/D Gripen fighters. A program to upgrade 31 of the air force's JAS 39A/B fighters to JAS 39C/Ds was started.

United Kingdom

Empire Test Pilots' School: Under the current agreement, ETPS instructor pilots and students undergo simulator training with the Swedish Air Force, and go on to fly the two-seater Gripen at Saab in Linköping, in two training campaigns per year (spring and autumn). The agreement was renewed in 2008.



The Royal Thai Air Force: Six aircraft, four of them two-seaters, have been ordered for delivery in 2011, with a potential additional six at a later date. The Gripens will replace the 12 F-5B/Es at Surat Thani Airbase.

More photos: Saab JAS 39 Gripen fighter photo gallery

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