NATO exercises test Gripen credentials

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Sweden has yet to use one of its Saab JAS39 Gripen fighters in anger, but the nation's air force continues to gather valuable experience from training alongside a variety of NATO types, and proving the domestic design's potential as an expeditionary asset.

Although Sweden deploys some personnel to support the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, its membership of the alliance's Partnership for Peace mechanism means that it has so far not deployed combat aircraft to the country.

Unable to gain combat experience against the Taliban, the Swedish air force has instead embarked on international training deployments over the past few years, including with Lockheed Martin F-16-equipped neighbour Norway, and two major exercises in the USA.

 saab gripen
 © Saab

Most recently, the service sent seven Gripens to take part in Red Flag manoeuvres at Nellis AFB, Nevada from mid-July. Drawn from the F21 Wing's 212th Fighter Squadron at Lulea airbase, the detachment comprised five single-seat Cs and two two-seat D-model combat aircraft.

Ninety-three air force personnel took part, including several from F17 Wing. The work built on a mid-2006 detachment of seven Gripens to a Cope Thunder exercise in Alaska.

The latest detachment used the same equipment and personnel which had been held at 10-day readiness for the first six months of this year as part of the Nordic Battle Group, formed to support European Union-mandated military action, but not required.

LIVE AMMUNITION

Equipped with Rafael Litening targeting/reconnaissance pods, the Gripens flew alongside fighters from Brazil and Turkey, plus NATO-operated Boeing E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft. Swedish aircraft deployed two live and four inert GBU-12 laser-guided bombs and 900 cannon rounds during the manoeuvres.

The Gripen fleet flew 95% of its planned sorties during the Red Flag Nellis exercise, says detachment head Lt Col Lars Helmrich. "The Swedish air force has a proven, expeditionary capability," he says.

Swedish air force Gripens will next be in overseas action this month, with several aircraft from F17's 171 Sqn to take part in exercise Joint Warrior in the UK. Due to conclude on 16 October, the programme will involve Panavia Tornado GR4 strike aircraft from the Royal Air Force's 12 Sqn, plus fixed-wing assets from several other NATO nations.

Saab has delivered 147 Gripens to the Swedish air force, according to Flight's MiliCAS database, including 30 Cs and eight Ds. The government is also providing financial support to assist in developing a next-generation model dubbed the Gripen NG, which is already drawing interest from potential export customers.