Attrition: Gripen Grounded


June 17, 2015: Hungary recently grounded all its JAS-39 Gripen fighters after two of them crashed. The first crash was on May 19th while the second occurred on June 10th. In both cases the pilot survived but one accident destroyed the aircraft while the other one just caused damage that can be repaired. Hungary has been leasing 14 JAS-39As since 2007 and the current lease runs through 2026. For the rest of the year Hungary will only have a dozen JAS-39As available as the two accidents are investigated.

What’s interesting about this is that the JAS-39A had an excellent safety record until these two crashes. Until May 2015 there had been only four JAS-39 crashes, two of them with prototypes during development. That’s for 250 JAS-39s built so far. The

JAS-39 entered active service in 1997. The 14 ton JAS-39C is roughly comparable to the latest versions of the F-16. The Gripen is small but can carry up to 3.6 tons of weapons. With the increasing use of smart bombs, this is adequate. Often regarded as an also-ran in the current crop of "modern jet fighters", the Swedish Gripen is proving to be more competition than the major players (the F-16, F-18, F-35, Eurofighter, Rafale, MiG-29, and Su-27) expected. Put simply, Gripen does a lot of little (but important) things right and costs about half as much (at about $35 million each) as its major competitors. More importantly, Gripen also costs about half as much, per flight hour, to operate. In effect, Gripen provides the ruggedness and low cost of Russian aircraft with the high quality and reliability of Western aircraft. For many nations this is an appealing combination. The Gripen is easy to use (both for pilots and ground crews) and capable of doing all jet fighter jobs (air defense, ground support, and reconnaissance) well enough.

It is unclear why these two accidents occurred and investigations by Hungary and the Swedish manufacturer are underway. The most likely reason, in cases like this, is poor maintenance or training. Hungary has a small military budget, currently less than one percent of GDP.  --- Przemys&&22;aw Juraszek



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