The Saab JAS 39 Gripen is a single-engine, canard-delta-wing multi-role fighter, produced by the Swedish Saab AB (originally Svenska Aeroplan AB). It is the Swedish manufacturer’s candidate in the HX Fighter Program, aiming to replace the capabilities of the Finnish Air Force Hornets.
The development of the Gripen (“Griffin”) began already in the late 1970’s as the Swedish Air Force sought a successor for their outdating Saab J35 Draken and Saab J37 Viggen fighters. Saab responded by designing a new multi-role fighter – the name JAS is an abbreviation for Jakt(air-to-air)-, Attack(air-to-ground)- and Spaningsplan (reconnaissance plane). The aircraft flew its maiden flight in 1988, and it was introduced into operative use by the Swedish Air Force officially in 1997.
There are several versions of the Gripen available. The oldest version is JAS 39A, and its two-seat version JAS 39B. The newer C/D -versions were introduced in the 2000’s. In 2016 Saab unveiled the newest, Next Generation Gripen E/F -version.
In addition to Sweden, the Gripen is operated by the air forces of Czech Republic, Hungary, South Africa and Thailand. Also British Empire Test Pilots’ School operates the aircraft to train their pilots in Linköping, Sweden. The Brazilian Air Force has also placed an order for 36 next-generation Gripen E/F -fighters, the aircraft are to be delivered between 2019 – 2024.
The Finnish Air Force first flew aircraft of the Swedish manufacturer in 1958, as Saab 91D Safir trainers were ordered for the basic pilot training of the Air Force. In 1970, the parliament decided to order Saab J35 Drakens to serve alongside the Soviet MiG-21’s. The Finnish Air Force also had two war-time Saab 17A bombers for a short period of time (1959 – 1961), which were used for towing shooting targets. The Gripen, then still in development, was also a candidate in the previous Fighter program in the turn of the 1980’s and 1990’s, to replace the MiG’s and Drakens – however, at that time the American Mc-Donnell-Douglas F/A-18 Hornet was chosen.