It’s no secret that the Western allies are preparing Ukraine’s air force for the transition to modern, Generation 4+ aircraft. As the US was the main supplier of weapons during the conflict with the Russian Federation, many analysts believe that the aircraft Kiev will receive will also be American-made. There has been talk of F-16 or F-15 models.
The transition to modern aircraft is not an easy operation. Ukraine must train its pilots, the technicians needed to maintain them, prepare the necessary ground infrastructure and supply chains. For every hour spent in the air, an aircraft needs many more hours of maintenance and servicing.
Moreover operating a modern aircraft fleet is extremely expensive, and in 10 years Ukraine will not be pumping billions of dollars into it from the West now.
Colin Kahl, the US Deputy Secretary of Defense, said a final decision on which aircraft Ukraine will receive has not been made. But several indications are that it will be a European model, the Swedish-made SAAB JAS 39 Gripen.
What are the clues
On August 10, a summit was held in Copenhagen, where Sweden’s defense minister declared that his country was prepared to supply arms to Ukraine. We know that Sweden is already training Ukrainian soldiers on British soil.
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Then there was another event that didn’t get much attention. Ukraine and Sweden signed a partnership for defense cooperation last year. What’s more, the JAS 39 Gripen had already been under consideration by Kiev for air force modernisation a long time ago and was mentioned in the Vision for 2035 programme.
At the same time, Ukraine’s Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov said in July this year that the aircraft is best suited for Ukraine’s ground infrastructure.
What the JAS 39 Gripen is and can do
The JAS 39 Gripen is a light weight, manoeuvrable multirole aircraft with advanced technologies. The aircraft first flew in 1988, entered active service in 1996 and is used by several countries: Sweden, Hungary, Czech Republic, South Africa, Thailand and Brazil (upgraded version JAS 39E/F Gripen).
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The aircraft has low operating costs ($5,800/hour vs $8,700 for upgraded versions of the F-16), is reliable and highly capable. What it lacks, however, compared to the F-16 or F-15, is participation in serious military conflicts in which to demonstrate its skills.
At the moment, Ukraine relies on decades-old Soviet Su-27 and Su-29 aircraft.
Sources: Defense Express, Government of Sweden