The JAS 39 Gripen is a small, agile and lightweight fighter design for multiple roles in the Royal Swedish Air Force. JAS stands for Jagt-Attack-Spaning which means Fighter-Attack-Reconnaissance. The Gripen (Griffon) design features canards positioned close in front of the delta wing. It is powered by the Volvo licensed built General Electric F404-GE-400 engine. The airframe structure incorporates light but extremely strong composite materials. It has a modern glass cockpit with three multi function displays and a wide-angle HUD. Its easily programmable software and associated systems make the aircraft suitable to configure it for all kinds of mission profiles.
The JAS 39A single-seater and the JAS 39B two-seater were the first production aircraft to enter service in the Swedish Air Force in 1997. The improved JAS 39C and two-seat version JAS 39D are the latest production batch. Improvements include air-to-air refuelling capability, NATO weapon pylons, and NATO compatible systems. The export version are also based on the C/D variants. After 2004 Swedish A/B variants will be updated to Batch 3 (C/D) standard.
Export customers thus far are South Africa, Czech Republic and Hungary. South Africa was the first foreign customer for the Gripen, ordering 19 single-seat and 9 twin-seat aircraft in 1999. The aircraft will be delivered between 2007 and 2011 and replace the Cheetah C/D aircraft currently in service.
In 2003 Hungary signed a lease-and-purchase contract for 12 single-seat and 2 twin-seat aircraft to be delivered in 2006 and 2007. The contract consists of a 10 year lease after which the aircraft will be property of the Hungarian government. The Gripen will be fully NATO compliant and represent the main fighting force of the Hungarian air force for the next 30 years.
In 2004 the Czech Republic signed a lease contract for twelve single-seat and two twin-seat Gripen aircraft for a period of 10 years. The aircraft are diverted from the production line destined for the Swedish Air Force for reduced delivery times. The first Czech Gripen made its first flight in November 2004 and will be delivered to the Czech Air Force in April 2005, making the Czech Republic the first NATO operator of the type. The last aircraft is to be delivered in August 2005. The JAS 39 C/D is fully NATO compliant and will fill the gap in the Czech air defense left by the MiG-23/29 disposal and MiG-21 retirement.
The Gripen was also offered to Poland to fill its requirement for 48 fourth generation fighter aircraft, but Lockheed Martin's F-16C/D Block 52 fighter was the winner. Austria preferred the Eurofighter Typhoon over the Gripen. The Saab-BAE SYSTEMS consortium also lost potential export sales to customers the Joint Strike Fighter, such as the Netherlands and Australia. Brazil is still postponing its decision for its future fighter, which may be the Gripen, Mirage 2000-9 or Su-35. Thailand was also interested in the Gripen, but no deal could be materialized between the Thai and Swedish government and it seems to be looking at the Sukhoi Su-30MKI variant instead.