Meet the Saab 'Gripen': A Powerful Fighter Jet You've Never Heard Of

Widely considered as one of the best jet fighters around.
Christopher McFadden

First flown in December of 1988, the venerable SAAB JAS 39 "Gripen" (Griffon) might actually be one of the most capable non-stealth jet fighters ever built. Designed to replace the SAAB 35 "Viggen" and SAAB 37 "Draken", the JAS 39 officially entered service in 1997.

The aircraft was designed and built as part of a joint effort by an industrial consortium that consisted of SAAB, SAAB Microwave Systems (formerly Ericsson), Volvo Aero Corporation, SAAB Avitronics, and FFV Aerotech. The resulting aircraft was the first Swedish multirole combat aircraft – capable of conducting interception, ground-attack, and reconnaissance.

An example of a highly capable fourth-generation fighter, the JAS 39 had the latest in digital controls, and weapons systems available at the time. 

The story of the "Griffon" started way back in the 1970s when the Swedish government decided to investigate the possibility of developing a multirole fighter that was deemed necessary to keep the Swedish Airforce relevant into the future. After a brief flirtation with the American F-16 and F18 fighters, it was decided to design and build their own domestic design instead. 

SAAB was duly contracted to make the project a reality. Out of this, the single-engine, SAAB JAS 39 was born with B and D variants that also featured longer canopies for two-man crews.


Since 1997, somewhere in the order of 204 SAAB JAS 39s have been built and delivered over a series of batches ordered by the Swedish Air Force. Of these, 70, or so, were delivered domestically, with the rest exported to other air forces around the world. 

To date, the JAS 39 can be found operational in Brazil, the Czech Republic, Hungary, South Africa, and Thailand. The UK also has a few that are used as training aircraft. 

The JAS 39 "Grippen" is a very tasty little fighter

The "Grippen" is powered by a Volvo RM12 after-burning turbofan engine that is capable of pumping out 54 kN (12,000 lbf) thrust dry or 80.5 kN (18,100 lbf) with an afterburner.

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This engine gives the aircraft a top speed of Mach 2 and an effective combat range of about 497 miles (800 km). She can also operate up to 9.47 miles (15.24 km) meters above sea level. 

When it comes to teeth, the fighter is armed with a 27 mm Mauser BK-27 revolver cannon with 120 rounds (in the single-seat version). She also comes with eight weapons mounting points,  two under the fuselage, two under, and one on the tip of each wing. This gives the "Grippen" a variety of armament options including missiles and laser-guided bombs. 

The E-version of the "Grippen" brings the aircraft right up to date with a more powerful engine, improved range, and greater ability to carry more ordnance. This version also adds a new SA-radar, Infrared Search and Track System (IRST), highly advanced electronic warfare and communication systems together with superior situational awareness.

A truly impressive package on any aircraft. 

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