Sweden will deliver Gripen jets to Ukraine after it formally joins NATO

Swedish Air Force Saab JAS 39 Gripen fighter jets fly alongside an aircraft simulating aerial interceptions during a NATO media day on July 4.

Sweden is exploring the possibility of sending Ukraine its Gripen fighters, highly capable jets that were designed to take on Russian aircraft, but Stockholm said there won’t be any transfer until it becomes a NATO member. 

The Swedish government on Friday announced a new security assistance package for Ukraine which included details about an “assignment” that the country’s military analyze and report “on the conditions for strengthening” Kyiv’s forces with the JAS 39 Gripen. It said that the analysis and subsequent report will cover how a potential transfer would impact Sweden’s defense capabilities, defense economy, and defense planning.  

“An important factor in this analysis is the JAS 39 Gripen orientation training that Ukrainian pilots and ground staff completed under the direction of the Swedish Armed Forces,” which, the announcement read, “must also report on the conditions for possible support within the international F-16s coalition,” referring to the coalition of Western nations that has committed to training Kyiv’s pilots and other personnel on operating and maintaining American-made F-16 fighter jets.  

Swedish Defense Minister Pål Jonson said on Friday that the Gripen report will be submitted in early November, when the military’s supreme commander — Gen. Micael Bydén — delivers his recommendation for the country’s upcoming defense bill. 

But ultimately, Jonson noted, “support in the form of JAS 39 Gripen would be conditional on Sweden first becoming a member of NATO.”  

Citing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Sweden and neighboring Finland first announced their intentions to join NATO over a year ago, breaking away from decades of neutrality. Finland officially joined the military alliance in April, but Sweden’s bid has been held up by Turkey, which has put forth several conditions for both Stockholm and the US before approving the measure, and Hungary following Ankara’s lead.  

Friday’s announcement, however, marks the latest signal that Ukraine could be closer to receiving Gripens, which officials in Kyiv have long sought but were off the table. 

Sweden repeatedly dismissed the idea of the sending the Gripen to Ukraine, citing its own national security interests, but Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in August that service members were already testing out the fighter. 

Last month, Swedish public radio reported that the country planned to investigate how a transfer of jets might impact defense readiness and how fast replacements could be built, given that Stockholm only has several dozen aircraft in its arsenal and just six countries operate the aircraft.  

The Gripen was designed to take on Russian fighter jets and features electronic-warfare capabilities built to counter the radars in Moscow’s aircraft and ground-based air-defense systems. It is considered to be a formidable and highly capable aircraft that is easy to maintain, requires less runway for taking off and landing, and is relatively inexpensive to operate. The jets can also be armed with air-to-surface missiles and bombs, and advanced air-to-air missiles. 

Several years ago, the commander of Sweden’s air force at the time said the “Gripen, especially the E-model, is designed to kill Sukhois,” adding that “there we have a black belt,” Insider previously reported. 

Unlike the US-made F-16s, on which the Ukrainians are currently training, the Gripen has not seen any combat experience. Still, experts say that the Gripen is perfectly suitable for what Kyiv is looking for.  

“Conceptually, the Swedish Air Force has always emphasized low-level air superiority tactics from dispersed bases, in a similar manner to how the Ukrainian Air Force currently operates, and so the Gripen was designed with ground support equipment and maintenance requirements compatible with that approach,” experts at the UK-based Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) wrote last year in an analysis on Kyiv’s air-defense needs.  

Even if Sweden decides to send Gripens to Ukraine, it would be many months before they actually reach the battlefield. Other aspects of Stockholm’s latest security assistance package — like crucial 155mm artillery shells and spare parts for the CV-90 armored combat vehicle — are more focused on the immediate future. 

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