Can't Afford That Shiny F-35? This Jet Fighter Might Be Able to Fight Your War

Mark Episkopos
© Milan Nykodym, Czech Republic [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)]

Mark Episkopos

Security, Europe

Made in Sweden.

Can't Afford That Shiny F-35? This Jet Fighter Might Be Able to Fight Your War

From Chinese media claiming that Taiwan’s F-16 fleet is “no match” for the J-11 to Russian media claiming that the S-400 will ”send the F-35 to its grave,” it has become a well-established tradition for defense outlets to speak up their nation’s weapons while deriding those of rival powers.

Defense commentary is, and always has been, notoriously difficult to disentangle from national politics.

The urge to establish one’s martial prowess over one’s adversaries took many different forms in the pre-modern period, from references to fighting spirit and superior force of will to invocations of divine favor.

(This first appeared earlier in June 2019.)

But in the centuries following the tremendous technological progress of the industrial revolution, a new paradigm has taken hold: “the enemy will crumble before our superior military hardware.”

From Chinese media claiming that Taiwan’s F-16 fleet is “no match” for the J-11 to Russian media claiming that the S-400 will ”send the F-35 to its grave,” it has become a well-established tradition for defense outlets to speak up their nation’s weapons while deriding those of rival powers.

So, when one of Russia’s foremost defense outlets--Voennoe Obozrenie--published a comparison piece between Su-30/Su-35 and Sweden’s Gripen NG fighter by Russian defense writer Evgeny Damantsev, the expectation was clear. The reality, however, is as refreshing as it is surprising.

Damantsev’s iconoclastic intent is readily apparent from the article’s headline: “Gripen-NG harmless for Su-30 and Su-35? Take off the rose-colored glasses!” The author is reacting to a recent statement by commander-in-chief of the Swedish Air Force, Major General Matts Helgesson, that the JAS-39E/F--also known as Gripen-NG--was “made to destroy” the Su-30SM and Su-35.

“Extremely unprofessional” and “self-aggrandizing” as Helgesson's comments are, Damantsev warns that it would be premature to dismiss them as pure bluster. He notes that his colleagues, guided by “patriotic sentiment” and made complacent by the Su-30/Su-35’s superior numbers, hastily concluded that the latest Gripen variants “pose no real threat” to Russia’s air force. This conclusion, however, relies on what is only a surface-level overview of Gripen-NG’s specifications sheet. That is, it fails to consider how Gripen-NG’s avionics, electronic countermeasures (ECM) and armaments are designed to work in tandem for the express purpose of countering Russia’s current Sukhoi line.

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