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 $30 million each) as its major competitors. In effect, Gripen provides the ruggedness and low cost of Russian aircraft, with the high quality and reliability of Western aircraft. For many nations, like South Africa, the Czech Republic and Hungary, 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.
The Gripen is small (14 ton max weight), but can carry up to 3.6 tons of weapons. With the increasing use of smart bombs, this is adequate. The aircraft entered active service in 1997, and has had an uphill battle getting export sales. Sweden does not have the diplomatic clout of its major competitors, so they have to push quality and service. Swedish warplanes, and products in general, have an excellent reputation in both categories. Nevertheless, the Gripen is still expected to lose out on a lot of sales simply because politics took precedence over performance.