The Lockheed F-35 Lightning has been drawing a lot of press – and orders from across the world. According to a Lockheed website, 14 countries either have orders in or are looking at buying the Lightning. But another cheaper jet is making waves.
A group of USAF F-35As in formation near Hill AFB, Utah (Photo U.S. Air Force)
The Saab JAS 39 Gripen is part of a long line of Swedish jets, to include the Draken and Viggen. According to MilitaryFactory.com, the Gripen has a top speed of 1,370 miles per hour, and a maximum range of 1,988 miles. The plane is armed with a 27mm cannon and can carry a wide variety of air-to-air and air-to-surface ordnance. It is a very advanced fourth-generation fighter (arguably falling in the Generation 4.5 category with the Eurofighter Typhoon and the Dassault Rafale).
A JAS 39 Gripen with a combat payload (Photo Saab Group)
The F-35, on the other hand, offers stealth technology and very advanced avionics, making it a fifth-generation fighter. MilitaryFactory.com reports it has a top speed of 1,199 miles per hour and a maximum range of 1,379 miles. It also has a wide variety of air-to-air and air-to-surface ordnance, and comes with a GAU-22 25mm cannon.
The F-35B Lightning II is a fifth-generation fighter, which is the world's first operational supersonic short takeoff and vertical landing aircraft. The F-35B brings strategic agility, operational flexibility and tactical supremacy to III MEF with a mission radius greater than that of the F/A-18 Hornet and AV-8B Harrier II in support of the U.S. – Japan alliance. (USMC photo)
So, why would a country want the Gripen? Two words: Math and money. The F-35 comes in at anywhere from $94 million to $122 million, depending on the variant, according to Lockheed. Now, this price may go down, but it's still pretty steep. According to GlobalSecurity.org, South Africa paid roughly $1.5 billion for 28 Gripen, which comes to about $53.5 million per jet. That's a $40 million savings, and you get everything the F-35 can do but stealth.
The F-35C Lightning II — a next generation single-seat, single-engine strike fighter that incorporates stealth technologies, defensive avionics, internal and external weapons, and a revolutionary sensor fusion capability — is designed as the U.S. Navy's first-day-of-war, survivable strike fighter. (U.S. Navy photo by Andy Wolfe)
But which plane can win in a fight? The Gripen has high performance, but the F-35 can see it easily. The F-35, on the other hand, is much harder for the Gripen to see. Fighter pilots have a saying, "Lose the sight, lose the fight." That means the Gripen, as impressive as it is, would come out second-best in a fight with the F-35.
Still, it's better than relying on a MiG or Sukhoi.