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Sweden Willing to Supply Gripen Fighter Jets, But Ukraine Faces Integration Challenge

Sweden Willing to Supply Gripen Fighter Jets, But Ukraine Faces Integration Challenge
A Swedish airforce Jas 39 Gripen E jet fighter flies over Gotland island in the baltic sea on May 11, 2022. Source: Getty Images

Sweden’s Foreign Minister, Tobias Billström, expressed openness to supplying Gripen fighter jets to Ukraine. However, Ukraine’s decision to prioritize F-16s due to their wider availability within NATO currently puts Gripen deliveries on hold.

Billström acknowledged Sweden’s initial plan to provide Gripens. However, Ukraine opted for F-16s, considering the larger number of NATO nations operating them. Billström emphasized the complexity of integrating fighter jet systems, making managing two distinct systems like Gripen and F-16s challenging for Ukraine.

“After all, we are talking about systems. It’s not just a question about receiving airplanes and training pilots. These are complicated systems and to have two of them at the same time being implemented was too much, but that is not to say that Sweden is not open to continue with Gripens air fighters if and when 16 programs have been concluded,” Billström said in an interview to the Voice of America.

Despite the current pause, Sweden remains receptive to future Gripen discussions. Billström stressed that Sweden has “no restrictions on these discussions” once Ukraine completes F-16 integration. This flexibility highlights Sweden’s long-term commitment to supporting Ukraine’s air defense needs.

While Gripen deliveries are on hold, Sweden has provided alternative capabilities. Ukraine received ASC 890 surveillance systems, enhancing their ability to conduct air battles and maintain air control in coordination with the F-16s. “It will provide Ukraine with the ability to perform better when it comes to air fighting and surveillance and also battle leading in the air and that is something which is going to be very good for Ukraine,” according to Billström.

Experts have praised Gripens for their operational efficiency, requiring fewer personnel for operation and maintenance. Additionally, their design for potential conflict with Russia makes them potentially well-suited for Ukraine’s situation.

Billström acknowledged these advantages, but emphasized the practicality of prioritizing the more widely available F-16s first. He expressed confidence in the F-16s' capabilities to bolster Ukraine’s air force. The door remains open for future Gripen discussions once F-16 integration is complete. The ultimate decision, however, lies with the Ukrainian government.

The acquisition of the F-16 Fighting Falcon, a coveted American fighter jet, has been a longstanding goal for Ukraine since the onset of Russia’s full-scale invasion. President Zelenskyy announced their arrival to Ukraine on the 1st of March 2024.

Earlier in May, Sweden announced it’s largest-ever military aid package for Ukraine worth $1.3 billion and it stays committed to the conclusions that were reached at the last Summit in Vilnius in Lithuania in 2023 where it was said that there should be a path for Ukraine towards NATO membership.

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