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The Swedish fighter plane that could make a difference in Ukraine

After years of trying to obtain F-16 fighter jets from the US and other NATO members, Ukraine may soon have another source of up-to-date warplanes.

Reports in Sweden say that the country’s government is considering sending Swedish-manufactured Gripen jets to the Ukrainians to aid in their fight against Russia – adding another dimension to Nordic and Baltic involvement in the war.

And even as Sweden’s NATO accession still depends on the say-so of Hungary and Turkey (the latter of which is trying to secure F-16 warplanes of its own from the US), the Swedish air force has already been training Ukrainian pilots on its number one aerial military export.

At a press conference with Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson in August, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called the Gripen “the pride of Sweden”, saying that “I firmly believe that Gripen can make our freedom much more secure”.

After the protracted effort to persuade the US to give clearance for the transfer of F-16s from its European allies, the prospect of a faster Gripen delivery will be tantalising for the Ukrainians as they push hard against Russian positions in the country’s south-east in particular.

Despite decades of steadfast military neutrality, Sweden spent much of the Cold War concerned about the potential for Soviet action in the Baltic area, and thus developed a strong defensive capability, one that in turn has made it a exporter of military hardware. 

And the Gripen is one of its most fearsome products.

Manufactured by aerospace giant Saab AB, the Gripen has certain advantages over the F-16, some of which make it particularly suited to the Ukrainian war.

For one thing, it was designed with the right adversary in mind: as British defence think tank RUSI