Beyond F-16s –  France Hesitates Delivering Mirage 2000D, While Sweden Offers Gripen to Ukraine

France appears reticent to give the Mirage 2000D, maybe desiring to avoid worsening tensions with Russia. Meanwhile, Sweden has connected any Gripen transfer to its desired NATO membership.

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Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P. Chacko is the publisher of Frontier India. He holds an M.B.A in International Business. Books: Author: Foxtrot to Arihant: The Story of Indian Navy's Submarine Arm; Co Author : Warring Navies - India and Pakistan. *views are Personal

French President Emanuel Macron granted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy 3 billion euros in military funding for 2024 during his recent visit to Paris.

While the latest Elysée Palace tenant has already confirmed the transfer of more SCALP missiles and “several hundred” modular air-to-ground armaments [AASM] beginning in February, Paris has yet to acknowledge handing over Mirage 2000D fighter bombers to Kyiv.

In September, as speculations about the transfer of combat aircraft gained traction, Sébastien Lecornu, Minister of the Armed Forces, put an end to them by clarifying to deputies that it was not the Ukrainians’ first request to France. However, with the prospect of getting American-made F-16s from the Netherlands and Denmark, this is no longer the case.

According to a March 2023 report in the Figaro newspaper, Ukrainian pilots were undergoing training at the aviation bases of Mont-de-Marsan and Nancy in preparation for operating the Mirage 2000. The French Ministry of Defence, nevertheless, declined to verify these rumours.

Then, an April publication of the French Military Programming Bill for 2024-30 contained a provision that sparked speculation regarding the delivery of Mirage 2000 aircraft to Ukraine. More specifically, it stated that the mid-life “repair” count for Mirage 2000D aircraft was reduced from 55 to 48. Is balance seven to be sent to Ukraine?

General Mykola Oleshchuk, the chief of the Ukrainian Air Force, clearly mentioned the possibility of receiving the Mirage 2000D in January. Then, in an interview with Libération on February 16, General Kyrylo Boudanov, the commander of military intelligence [GUR], stated that he expects France to contribute aircraft. He further stated, “Ukrainian pilots are among the most qualified in the world today because they have combat experience. […] Therefore [they] will easily master these equipment. […] I hope that the French Republic will hand over these aircraft to us” He was obviously referring to the Mirage 2000D.

Mirage 2000D
Mirage 2000D. Image: Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) 2017, Photo by Tech. Sgt. Brian Kimball

According to Le Monde, France feels Ukraine lacks the capability to fly many types of combat aircraft and should instead focus on the F-16. Providing Mirage 2000D necessitates assuring operational readiness, having appropriate infrastructure, and training pilots – which takes six to eight months for a rookie, navigators, and maintenance.

On the other hand, Sweden does not share this viewpoint, as Swedish Minister of Defence Pal Jonson stated in an interview with the Kyiv Independent. Ukraine needs combat aircraft […]. If we can, in one way or another, help them, we will be happy to consider the possibility of delivering Gripen to them, he said. But “for us to be able to make a decision, we must be full members of NATO. […] It is also a decision that must be made in consultation with others,” he said.

Here is a collection of references to the Gripen being supplied to Ukraine.

In an interview with Aviation Week in April 2022, Saab CEO Micael Johansson stated that the company is in talks with the Ukrainian government about Gripen.

According to a May 2022 item in The Times, Saab is negotiating with Kyiv about giving its Gripen fighter plane to Ukraine’s war effort, and the Swedish government confirmed it was in discussions about offering military aid. 

Sweden’s defence minister stated in June 2022 that discussions were taking place regarding potentially delivering Gripen aircraft to Ukraine, as Breaking Defence and others reported.

A July 2022 item in The Drive mentioned the Swedish government’s pledge to provide Ukraine with 12-18 Gripen C/D jets.

In August 2022, a Ukrainian presidential adviser told Politico that the Saab Gripen fighters were their greatest option. Sweden confirmed that they would provide them to Ukraine, he said.

According to Janes, the Swedish defence minister stated in September 2022 that talks with Ukraine about deploying Gripen jets were ongoing. 

Gripen vs F-16 for Ukraine

The Gripen is designed to operate on short or damaged runways. Ukraine’s airfields have been major targets during the war; thus, the Gripen’s ability to operate in challenging conditions could be advantageous.

It has lower operating costs than the F-16. Given Ukraine’s limited resources, the Gripen’s lower long-term sustainment expenses may make it a more viable option.

The Gripen can carry the most advanced precision-guided munitions that NATO countries deliver to Ukraine. It has weaponry similar to the F-16.

The Gripen’s sensor and data connection capabilities enable effective information sharing between aircraft and ground units. This networking could help Ukraine’s soldiers become more effective.

Saab has previously offered favourable funding and technology transfers to countries interested in purchasing the Gripen. They may be willing to do similar things for Ukraine.

Ukraine may be able to maintain a greater fleet size than F-16s due to Gripen’s smaller size and reduced flight expenses. Increased aircraft availability increases preparedness and operations.

In January 2023, Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto stated that Sweden could equip Ukraine with a “squadron” of Gripens. A squadron normally has 12-18 jets.

Ukraine has stated that it wants between 70-100 Western fighter jets. 12-18 Gripens from Sweden alone are insufficient, but when paired with F-16s from other NATO nations, they come closer to meeting Ukraine’s requirements.

Realistically, no single nation is likely to provide Ukraine with all of the fighter jets it requires. However, each contribution, such as the Gripens, helps to create capacity.


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