Sweden’s JAS 39 Gripen may be one of the bigger players in future military aviation, despite it being from a small country with a jet fighter that is smaller and has less performance at the top end of the fighter military regime. This was underlined recently by its win of a contract to supply Brazil the latest Gripen, Saab’s largest order so far.
This is partly because the nature of the world as well as the nature of the Gripen. Despite some disturbing facts and trends, the world overall is growing richer. Smaller nations are becoming more advanced and able to buy more weapons. Their needs are different from those of large countries such as the U.S., China, and Russia. They need something which is “lean and mean.”
They do not need long range in their fighters. Their most dangerous competitors are near and close to their “weight” in military sophistication. So they need a smaller vehicle with less cost, not only in initial cost but ongoing cost in fuel, maintenance, and training. They need a craft simpler to fly and to support on the ground. For one factor in keeping a military force effective is training and practice in its use. This is why many countries such as Iran’s and N. Korea’s aerial forces are paper tigers.
The Gripen itself is a product more advanced than might seem at first glance. Much of its “muscle” is in superior electronics, a sometimes deciding factor on any battlefield on land, sea, and in the air. Its design is sophisticated, with much thought put into ergonomics: ease and efficiency of operation. It is versatile, with a single- and a double-cockpit configuration, able to contest air space, able to support ground troops and sea vessels, and act as a trainer.
The following video gives you some idea of the capabilities of the Gripen. For more detail on the strategic, tactical, economical, and political considerations behind the Gripen sale see a discussion in StrategyPage.com.