F-16 Fighting Falcon and Jas 39 Gripen: Which one is better for Ukraine?
In the face of Russia's invasion, Ukraine's air force has displayed impressive resilience and adaptability, nearly a year since the conflict began. However, the limitations of Ukraine's aging fleet of MiG-29 and Su-27 fighters are becoming increasingly apparent as they contend with modernized Russian aircraft such as the Su-30SM, Su-35S, and MiG-31BM. To effectively counter this threat and ensure the country's defensive capabilities, Ukraine is in need of modern Western jets that can serve both offensive and defensive purposes. Among the viable options, two cost-efficient choices are the US F-16 Fighting Falcon and Sweden's Saab JAS 39 Gripen-C.
The F-16 Fighting Falcon is a widely-used aircraft with a proven track record of combat capabilities. One of its notable strengths is its effectiveness as a Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD) platform. This is due to its advanced avionics, weapons compatibility, and multirole capabilities. The F-16 is equipped with anti-radiation missiles such as the AGM-88 HARM and AARGM, which allow it to locate, identify, and engage enemy air defense systems. This capability is crucial in neutralizing threats posed by modern Russian air defense systems .
On the other hand, the Gripen-C, designed by Sweden's Saab, is specifically tailored to operate at low cost in cold climates and from rugged satellite bases, with limited maintenance requirements. The Gripen's versatility is reflected in its compatibility with a range of armaments, beyond its single 27 mm Mauser BK-27 cannon (which is omitted on the two-seat variants). It can be armed with air-to-air missiles such as the AIM-9 Sidewinder, air-to-ground missiles such as the AGM-65 Maverick, and anti-ship missiles such as the RBS-15. Additionally, the Gripen is compatible with advanced weapons like the long-range MBDA Meteor missile, the short-range IRIS-T missile, and the GBU-49 laser-guided bomb, offering a wide range of options for various mission requirements.
One of the strengths of the F-16 is its extensive use by many countries around the world, which has resulted in a large pool of knowledge and expertise in operating and maintaining the aircraft. This can be a valuable asset for Ukraine, as it can benefit from the existing infrastructure, training programs, and support systems associated with the F-16. Furthermore, the F-16's reputation as a reliable and capable aircraft in combat situations adds to its appeal as a potential choice for Ukraine's air force.
In terms of cost-effectiveness, both the F-16 and Gripen have advantages. The F-16 has a large user base, which can potentially result in cost-sharing opportunities and lower maintenance costs through economies of scale. On the other hand, the Gripen's design for cost-effective operations in harsh conditions and from satellite bases can potentially reduce operating costs and maintenance requirements.