As my regular readers will know, I like to keep tabs on aviation—and particularly on its more eccentric areas like rotary aircraft, bush planes, and airships. Conventional passenger aircraft don’t stir my blood. They tend towards the dull, and flying in them has become downright unpleasant. That said, I make an exception when one—such as MH 370—vanishes mysteriously. Now that is the stuff of thrillers.
But I’m not going to write about vanishing aircraft today. Instead I want to draw attention to the extraordinary Swedish achievement that is the Gripen JAS 39E fighter. On the face of it, it should be technically impossible for a nation with a population of less than 10 million to build—let alone afford—such an aircraft: Yet here it is. And, what is more, it shows every sign of being exported successfully despite major competition from the U.S., the UK, France, and Russia. So far, the Swedes and the Swiss have ordered it—and Brazil is a strong possibility.
What fascinates me about the Gripen is that not only is the JAS 39E highly sophisticated technically—but despite being developed and manufactured in high labor cost Sweden, it is cheaper both to buy and to operate than the competition. Specifically, you can put one on your credit card for only $43 million—and the cost per flying hour including fuel is a bargain at $7,500.
In effect, the Gripen is about half the price of a comparable U.S. fighter (less in some cases) both to buy and to fly.
It’s a great pity more of us don’t take an interest in this stuff because then we might realize that one of the reasons we spend so much on defense is not just that we get into the wrong wars in the wrong ways, but that we are being ripped off across the board by the MICC (the Military Industrial Congressional Complex)—and have been for decades.