On October 23, Saab outlined the Swedish Air Force’s (SwAF’s) plan to upgrade and retain two squadrons of Gripen C/D multi-role fighters for at least another decade.
The announcement came after the Swedish Defence Ministry unveiled a new defence bill on October 14 that covers a 40% increase in spending in the defence budget from 2021 to 2025. The bill – which is Sweden’s largest increase in defence spending in 70 years – is set to become law in February 2021. Notably, the bill covers the service life extension of two squadron’s worth of Gripen C/Ds, which will see them remain operational with the SwAF beyond 2030 and the introduction of the latest Gripen E variant.
At present, the SwAF maintains six combat aircraft squadrons, four of which will transition to the Gripen E when deliveries of the platform begin in the near future. The remaining two units will retain the Gripen C/D, which will be upgraded to the latest MS20-standard and equipped with the Meteor beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile (BVRAAM) and GBU-39 small diameter bomb. The bill also proposes that new sensors are acquired to replace the retained Gripen C’s ageing SPK 39 reconnaissance pod.
In total, Sweden has 60 examples of the Gripen E multi-role fighter on order for the air force. However, according to Saab, “there are estimations that the force will later comprise around 90-100 Gripen fighters.”
Swedish defence minister, Peter Hultqvist, said: “[The bill] is a signal to the Swedish people and our neighbourhood that we are taking the security situation extremely seriously. The proposals in the bill should be seen against the background of the deteriorating security situation in Sweden’s neighbourhood and in Europe over time. Sweden will be affected if crisis or an armed conflict arises in our region. An armed attack against Sweden cannot be ruled out.”
The bill seeks to improve several other elements across the SwAF, including training, readiness and weapons. It also proposes increasing the number of serving military personnel from 60,000 to 90,000. Along with this, the bill further details Sweden’s offer of defence cooperation with Finland if the neighbouring nation selects the Gripen E in its HX Fighter replacement programme.