Swedish Defense Minister Travels to Philippines for Fighter Sale

The Swedish Defense Minister (DM), Pål Jonson, is set to travel to the Philippines to discuss the possible sale of JAS-39 Gripen fighter aircraft to Manila as part of a larger three-country visit in the Indo-Pacific region from May 31st to June 5th.

Sweden and the Philippines have also signed an Implementing Arrangement on Procurement of Defense Materiel and Equipment on May 17th, which confirms the Philippine interest in acquiring Swedish aircraft.

Jonson will travel to Singapore from May 31st to June 2nd. He will attend the Shangri-La Dialogue, an annual meeting hosted by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), to discuss defense and security-related matters.

The second destination will be Canberra, Australia, from June 3rd–4th to attend the Joining Forces defense summit, hosted by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI).

The trip will conclude in Manila, the Philippines, with a meeting with Defense Minister Gilberto Teodoro Jr. to discuss the possible sale of the 4th generation JAS-39 Gripen fighter and Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C), likely the Saab 340, and to celebrate the National Swedish Embassy Day.

Aircraft acquisitions

The Philippines wants to add around 40 fighters to its fleet through the Philippine Air Force’s (PAF) Multirole Fighter Acquisition Project (MFP) attached to the Horizon 3 program to improve the Air Force’s capabilities.

The F-16 is being considered; however, acquiring F-16s would go over budget, leading to the Philippines leaning more toward the JAS-39 Gripen. Furthermore, the Philippines cannot buy refurbished F-16s due to a constitutional law that prevents the country from buying used equipment. In 2022, Sweden pitched the JAS-39 as part of the MFP.

The Philippines wants to adopt 40 new fighters as a part of the program, and has budgeted around $1.1 billion (63 billion pesos). Based on the budget and the unit cost of one Gripen, the total number acquired is likely around 10–14 Gripens total.

Philippian Fleet and JAS-39

The Philippine Air Force (PAF) uses 12 South Korean-made FA-50PH light fighter aircraft as its primary fighter, along with 7 Brazilian Bronco OV-10 prop planes and 6 EMB 314/A-29 Super Tucano as close air support aircraft.

Two of the Twelve FA-50PH in the PAF’s Fleet. Source: PAF

The JAS-39 is similar to the FA-50PH but the Gripen has better specifications in some areas, such as speed, traveling around Mach 1.2 at sea level and almost Mach 2 at much higher altitudes, compared to the FA-50’s speed of Mach 1.5. The JAS-39 also has a higher takeoff weight of (30,865 lbs. or 14,000 kg) vs. the FA-50 (26,422 lbs. or 11,984 kg). The Gripen also has a higher ceiling compared to the FA-50 (50,000 feet or 15240 meters) vs. (48,000 feet or 14630 meters) and a longer operational range (1,988 miles or 3199 km ) vs. (1,150 miles or 1850 km).

The JAS-39 also features 10 weapon hardpoints, compared to the FA-50’s six.

The FA-50 does carry some advantages over the JAS-39, a lighter weight, (14,200 lbs. or 6441 kg) vs the Gripen (14,991 lbs. or 6799 kg) and a cheaper price, costing approximately $43.5 million, vs. the more expensive JAS-39 at around $80 million. The maintenance cost and per-flight hour cost are also more affordable compared to the Gripen, although both are considered fairly cost-effective options.

Both airframes have continued to see upgrades and improvements since their introduction.

SAAB JAS-39 Gripen. Source: SGT Müller Marin

Analysis

The Philippines showing interest in the Swedish aircraft as a part of the larger program to bolster the overall capabilities is a plan to focus on military capabilities as part of the external defense strategy from foreign powers, notably China. Greater air power will also aid the other branches of the Philippian military, particularly the sea power in cases of island defense.

Should the Philippines adopt the JAS-39, it could be the most capable airframe in the PAF. Although China has 5th generation fighters such as the J-20, the introduction of the JAS-39 may allow the Philippines to better contest the airpower of China. The JAS-39 surpasses the current PAF’s FA-50PHs in many categories, such as range, ceiling, and speed. Introducing the JAS-39 into the AFP fleet is a needed upgrade after the Philippines retired older airframes, such as the F-8 in 1988 due to a lack of spare parts, and the F-5 in 2005.

The Philippines is likely trying to build up its fleet as soon as possible since a modernization program not being prioritized until recently. The country ordering 40 may hint at a sense of urgency, as the current fleet of supersonic fighters stands at 12.

The Gripen is also likely the best choice due to its lower unit cost and lower maintenance and flight time costs, allowing the PAF to better close the gap in their fleet size for a price within their budget. The PAF is also considering purchasing other aircraft, such as the Erieye command and control aircraft, allowing greater situational awareness, coordination, direction, and management of forces. The Philippines does not currently operate anything similar, giving the PAF another major tool.

Evan Berridge
Evan Berridge
Evan is an analyst specializing in Indo-Pacific affairs and has over 5 years of experience as a freelance writer.

MORE FROM ATLAS NEWS

Rafah Crossing “Destroyed”

Recent footage has revealed that the Rafah Crossing in southern Gaza has been effectively destroyed. The footage offers a good clue as to why the crossing has remained closed since...

China’s Increase in Crude Oil Storage Tied to Economic Recovery, Strategic Reserve Replenishment

China’s National Statistics Bureau (NSB) released monthly data indicating that the country added approximately one million barrels per day (BpD) of crude oil to its commercial and strategic stockpiles...