Swedish politician predicts fast decision on Gripen fighters to Ukraine

    WORLD  27 February 2024 - 20:44

    Muharrem Demirok, leader of Sweden’s opposition Center Party, called on the ruling Social Democrat government to move quickly on plans to transfer high-tech JAS 39 Gripen fighter aircraft to Ukraine, now that Sweden has overcome its last hurdle to joining NATO.

    The Swedish legislature broadly supports moving forward on handing over an as-yet undetermined number of the potent combat aircraft to Kyiv, and that a firm decision should come soon, Demirok said, in comments widely reported by local media on February 26, according to Kyiv Post.

    “I expect that already on Tuesday we will receive an invitation from the Prime Minister regarding a broad agreement for the Gripen to Ukraine,” Demirok said.

    Currently, the Ukrainian Air Force (UAF) operates Soviet-era Su-27 and MiG-29 fighters, too outdated and too small in number to prevent the Russian air force from bombing Ukrainian troops, practically at will. Kyiv officials at the outset of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine asked Stockholm about the possible transfer of up to 90 Gripens to beef up Ukrainian air defenses.

    The Gripen is a modern, delta-winged, fourth-generation-plus fighter jet produced by Sweden’s giant arms concern Saab, and comparable to the German-British Eurofighter Typhoon or France’s Dassault Rafale.

    Stockholm refused the 2022 Ukrainian request on grounds that Sweden, at the time a neutral country, needed to retain a maximum reserve of combat aircraft for national security, at least until Sweden could join NATO.

    That barrier fell away on Monday with approval by longtime holdout Hungary for Sweden to join the Atlantic Alliance. The main quid-pro-quo for Budapest’s reversal of months of opposition to Swedish membership was Stockholm’s agreement to transfer four additional Gripen jets to Hungary’s air force. Budapest already leases 14 of the aircraft. Saab is contracted to upgrade and maintain the fighters “beyond 2035,” a company press release said.

    Demirok said that now that Sweden is absolutely on track to become a NATO member, the way is now clear to kick off the transfer of Gripens to Kyiv. The Swedish military has made necessary preparations, reserve aircraft are available now in Saab’s inventory, and Ukraine’s need is critical, he said.

    “If there is anything we know about Ukraine, it is that air supremacy will mean everything to shift the front. If we (the Swedish government) don’t make a decision now, it will be remarkable,” Demirok said, in comments reported by Aftonbladet newspaper.

    Were the Swedish parliament to approve a Gripen transfer, it would be months and probably at least a year before the planes would actually defend Ukrainian air space.

    A team of Ukrainian pilots and aviation specialists traveled to Sweden in May 2023 to perform familiarization and evaluation flights of the Gripen. The Ukrainian pilots completed the flights, found the aircraft favorable, and reported their findings to Kyiv, Swedish Defense Pål Jonson told Svierges Radio in November. The Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter in December 2023 reported plans for the transfer an unspecified number of the jets to Ukraine are “still current” and that the Swedish Defense Ministry had performed a classified analysis on a possible handover.

    Saab designed the Gripen to fly from unimproved air strips with low operating costs, and to require minimal skilled maintenance crew. Most military aviation analysts rate avionics and air-to-air missiles equipping the aircraft superior to any combat jet operated by Russia. For Ukraine, the main drawback to acquiring Gripen jets is the cost of around $85 million per aircraft.

    Bulgarian military analyst Boyko Nikolov said an effective “countdown” could last up to a year due to the time needed to train Ukrainian pilots and ground crew. In an article entitled “Swedish Momentum: Gripen Proposal for Ukraine Gains Broad Support,” the Sofia-based security information platform bulgarianmilitary.com said that delivery of a small number of the Swedish fighters to Kyiv is likely to go ahead, saying it “is a matter of time.”

    Ukraine is on track to receive and operate its first US-made F-16 fighter aircraft, a combat aircraft with capabilities similar to the Gripen, in late Spring or early summer, UAF officials have said. Denmark and the Netherlands have promised to donate at least 44 F-16s to Ukraine with a final airframe count possibly rising to 60. The F-16 costs less than a Gripen and is one of the world’s most proven combat aircraft. Manufactured by Lockheed-Martin in South Carolina, the US plane is more expensive to operate than a Gripen and is not as well-adapted to rough airstrips.

    Military products manufactured by Sweden’s Saab have been in the hands of Ukrainian fighting men since Russia’s February 2022 main force invasion and are widely praised. Most valued in the early days of the Kremlin assault were hand-held anti-tank weapons like the high-tech NLAW guided missile and the venerable Carl-Gustaf rocket, a system first fielded in 1948 but upgraded with warheads able to take out a modern Russian tank. More recently, Ukrainian military information platforms reported the first use of a newly developed Saab-Boeing munition called GLSDB (Ground-Launched Small Diameter Bomb), a precision-guided glider bomb rated to within a meter of selected target at ranges over 150 km.

    Saab increased dividends and posted net profit of $116.5 million in the last quarter of 2023, up 8 per cent over the same period in 2022, along with an overall sales rise of 16 per cent, a February 9 Wall Street Journal article said. A corporate presentation of 2023 overall performance said the firm doubled its order backlog over the year and increased investment in production capacity by 25 percent.

    Sweden’s leading business newspaper SvD Näringsliv in January reported Saab was hiring more staff to expand and speed Gripen production. The firm also is planning new assembly lines for anti-tank weapons, including a brand-new Carl-Gustaf factory in India, a Saab investor briefing made public on February 9 said.

    Numbers of GLSDB missiles in Ukrainian inventories are a Kyiv military secret. Funding for possible further deliveries of US-Swedish high-tech weapons is currently stalled in the US House of Representatives.

    Caliber.Az

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