Why did India “ignore” Sweden’s J-39 Gripen fighter?

Sweden offers the J-39 Gripen fighter jet to India at less than half the price of the French Rafale; But why is India “ignoring” this fighter?

The Swedish aerospace corporation Saab, recently recommended to sell the JAS-39 Gripen fighter to the Indian Air Force, at half the price of the French Rafale. Although Saab is using every relationship to try to sell fighter jets to India, all these efforts are in vain. In the Indian Air Force’s “Multi-Purpose Combat Aircraft 2.0 (MMRCA 2.0)” bidding project, Sweden’s ability to choose fighter aircraft is almost negligible.

The JAS-39 is a single-engine light multirole fighter aircraft manufactured by the Saab Aerospace Corporation of Sweden. The Gripen has a delta wing and canard configuration with relaxed stability design and fly-by-wire flight controls. Later aircraft are fully NATO  interoperable. As of 2020, more than 271 Gripens of all models, A–F, have been built.

JAS 39C equipped with GBU-39 SBD, Meteor, and IRIS-T.

JAS-39 was developed to replace the old JAS-37 Thunder and JAS-35 Dragon fighters of the Swedish Air Force. In addition to the Swedish Air Force, JAS-39’s customers include the Brazilian Air Force, South Africa, the Czech Republic, and in Southeast Asia, Thailand.

The JAS-39 Gripen fighter is powered by a Volvo RM12 turbofan engine; this is a derivative of the F404 engine of the American General Electric Company.

There is a special thing that when the Indian Air Force buys any weapon, it will become the brand ambassador of that weapon. The world has seen a huge market for the world’s 4th largest air force and is looking to sell a variety of fighters to this force.

Since India bought the Rafale fighter, they have helped this French fighter achieve much success in the export market. After India bought the Rafale, the UAE ordered the next 80 Rafales from France while more nations are planning to buy.

tejas jet in Dubai
Tejas FOC version Of Indian air force

Saab also hopes to gain a larger international market share for Gripen through exports to the Indian Air Force. This is why the company is very active in offering JAS-39 to India. Although the performance of the Swedish fighter can be very good, the Indian Air Force basically did not buy it, mainly for the following three reasons:

Saab Gripen JAS-39 us of course a very good single seat fighter. But the fighter is yet to be tested in a war and it is similar to Indian fighter Tejas (of course more capable than Tejas). India needs a fighter that can dominate skies of Pakistan and Gripen can’t do that (unlike Rafale of Eurofighter).

Indian air force Rafale F3R
Indian air force Rafale F3R

The biggest disadvantage of buying Saab Gripen is that Sweden is a lightweight country. If India buys more Rafale or Eurofighter then France and Britain respectively can help India on international forums and they have Veto power. Buying an American plane will give access to the F-35 fighter program and American goodwill.

Sweden has sold many weapons to Pakistan and has acted like a pro-Pakistan country since August 5 (when India dissolved the special status of Jammu & Kashmir). India can’t buy fighters from a lightweight Pakistan supporting country like Sweden.

In addition, buying Rafale is more practical than buying Gripen.  First is the tactical technical feature of the Rafale fighter, as discussed many times before, it makes more sense for the Indian Air Force to continue purchasing the Rafale fighter. Recently, because India has invested a lot of money in building the necessary infrastructure to operate the Rafale fighter, the purchase of Rafale will be a practical decision.

In addition, continuing to purchase a new batch of Rafale does not require much investment, because pilots, technicians as well as ground navigation of the Indian Air Force, have been trained to use Rafale; and it will be easier to support the logistics, and of course the price is also cheaper.

The second factor is the domestic Tejas fighter aircraft developed and manufactured by India. Currently, Tejas and Gripen fighters are both light fighters. Both types use US made General Electric’s F404 engine, so essentially there is not too much of a difference, even the power of Tejas engine is more than the Gripen.

In addition, the Indian Air Force has ordered 83 Tejas MK1A fighters, compared to Sweden’s JAS-39 fighter, Tejas MK1A is a relatively new platform, so more new technologies can be used, also Indian made aircraft used the most advanced Fly by wire system than any active fighter in the world.

Tejas mk2 fighter aircraft
Tejas mk2 fighter aircraft with similar capabilities like Gripen

Currently, India is also preparing to develop a new version of Tejas, The MK2 version. Therefore, if the Indian Air Force needs a single engine fighter, then Tejas and future Tejas MK2 will fulfill all the needs, instead of JAS-39.

The third is the issue of fighter engines, which is also the most important. As early as 1978, the Indian government reached an agreement with Saab to buy JAS-37 Thunder fighter aircraft. However, due to the US embargo on US-made engines, the transaction was eventually cancelled, due to US obstruction.

Even though more than forty years have passed since this incident, the same problem will still be encountered today. In the tender for India’s MMRCA 2.0 fighter jet project, two US fighters competed with the Gripen, the F-21 and the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet.

The RM-12 engine that the Swedish fighter uses, is a derivative of the US General Electric F404 engine; not yet all control software and operating system JAS-39 are owned by US companies; Not to mention the aircraft manufacturing materials as well as many other equipment are of American origin. Moreover, Gripen doesn’t suit for IAF multirole combat role. It can’t carry nuclear warheads.

Leaving aside other issues such as fighter performance, if the JAS-39 really did defeat the American fighter in the end and win the bid, would the US allow this to happen? History will repeat itself, and the US will certainly impose sanctions like the previous JAS-37 Thunder.

Therefore we can conclude that, India is unlikely to choose Gripen in its MMRCA 2.0 fighter aircraft project. Saab should look to other markets, not the Indian Air Force.

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