Sweden says it built a Russian fighter jet killer - and stealth is totally irrelevant
- Sweden's Air Force says its Gripen E fighter jets are designed to kill Russia's fearsome Sukhoi fighter jets, and that they have a "black belt" in that type of combat.
- The Gripen E can't carry the most weapons, has no real stealth, isn't the longest-range, fastest, or even cheapest jet, but has a massive and respected electronic warfare capability.
- The Gripen E is Sweden's cheap solution to killing Russia's fighter jets and surface-to-air missiles, and Russia probably can't do much about it.
The commander of Sweden's air force, Mats Helgesson, recently made the bold statement that his country's Saab Gripen E fighter could beat Russia's formidable fleet of Sukhoi jets with none of the expensive stealth technology the US relies on."Gripen, especially the E-model, is designed to kill Sukhois. There we have a black belt," Helgesson told Yle.fi at a presentation in Finland, where Sweden is trying to export the jets.
The Gripen can't carry the most weapons, has no real stealth, isn't the longest-range, fastest, or even cheapest jet, but it has a singular focus that makes it a nightmare for Russia's fighter jets.Read more: Russian media says Su-35 fighter jets 'humiliated' and backed down US F/A-18s
Justin Bronk, an aerial combat expert at the Royal United Services Institute, told Business Insider that like the A-10 Warthog was built around a massive cannon, the Gripen was built around electronic warfare.Virtually all modern jets conduct some degree of electronic warfare, but according to Bronk, the Gripen E stands above the rest.
Gripen pilots don't like to show their cards by demonstrating the full power of the jet's jamming in training, but according to Bronk, the one time they did, it completely reversed the course of the mock battle in training.
"Several years ago the Gripen pilots got tired of being made fun of by German Typhoon pilots and came to play with their wartime electronic warfare and gave them a hell of a hard time," said Bronk. One of the Gripens was "reportedly able to appear on the left wing of a Typhoon without being detected" by using its "extremely respected" jamming ability, said Bronk."It would be fair to assume the Gripen is one of the most capable electronic warfighters out there," he went on, adding that the Gripens that baffled the Typhoons were of the C/D series, which have much less powerful electronic warfare capabilities than the E series Gripens Helgesson described.
Who needs stealth?
To defeat Russia's fearsome fighters and surface-to-air missiles, the US has largely turned to stealth aircraft. Stealth costs a fortune and must be built into the shape of the plane.If Russia somehow cracks the code of detecting stealth-shaped fighters, the US's F-35, the most expensive weapons system in history, is cooked.
But Saab took a different, and cheaper, approach to combating Russia's fighters and missiles by focusing on electronic attack, which gives them an advantage over stealth as they can evolve the software without a ground-up rebuild, according to Bronk.
But, "the problem with basing a survival strategy around an electronic warfare suite is you don't really know if it's going to work," he said. "Even if it does, it's going to be a constant battle between your adversary and you" to get the edge on the enemy fighters as wave forms and methods of attack continuously change.However, Sweden benefits from a Russian focus on US fighters. "Sweden is too small really to optimize your counter-electronic warfare capabilities against," said Bronk. Read more: F-35s train in air-combat 'beast mode' in the Pacific after China deploys 'carrier-killer' missiles
If war broke out between Russia and the West, Russia would likely try hardest to push back on US electronic warfare rather than against Sweden's Gripen Es, which there would only be a few dozen of.
Additionally, the Gripen E can fire almost any missile made in the US or Europe.
"If you couple a very effective radar with excellent EW and a Meteor, the most effective longest range air-to-air missile which is resistant against [Russia's] jammers... There's no reason not to assume it wouldn't be pretty damn effective," said Bronk. "If you're a flanker pilot, it's probably a very scary thing to face."
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