The Flanker-G Killer: The JAS-39C Gripen versus the SU-30MKK/MK2 Flanker-G

Revised March 26, 2014. See bottom of the page for the complete revision history


A JAS-39C Gripen of the Czechoslovakian Air Force. Photo courtesy of Saab AB thru Flickr
A JAS-39C Gripen of the Czechoslovakian Air Force. Photo courtesy of Saab AB thru Flickr

Aside from the F-16C Fighting Falcon, another aircraft that the Philippine Air Force (PAF) has its sights on for the Philippines’ main combat aircraft is the JAS-39 Gripen. An informal survey by the Philippine News Agency just a couple of months ago showed that most PAF pilots preferred to have the Gripen to be the country’s next fighter aircraft.1 We’ve already seen how the F-16C could fare against the SU-30MKK Flanker in my blog, “The F-16C Block 50/52+ Viper versus the SU-30MKK/MK2 Flanker-G“, let us now take a look at how the JAS-39 could fare against the same adversary.

‘Aircraft Backgrounds’
The JAS-39 is made by the Swedish company “Saab” and first entered service with the Swedish Air Force in 1997. It is described as a lightweight Multi Role Fighter (MRF) and 250 aircrafts have been built so far in service with six countries around the world.

The JAS-39C is the latest mass produced version of the aircraft introduced into service in 2003 with improvements like better avionics, in-flight refueling capability and an improved oxygen system for long-duration flights. The aircraft’s official name is “Gripen” which is the Swedish word for “Griffin“,2 a mythical creature with the body of a lion and the head and wings of an Eagle.

The SU-30 is an improved version of the SU-27 Flanker made by the Russian Federation’s “Sukhoi Company” and entered service with the Russian Air Force in 1996. It is described as a heavy, long-range, all-weather strike fighter and around 400+ aircrafts have been built so far in service with nine countries around the world.

The SU-30MKK is the special export version to China of the SU-30 which went into the Chinese Air Force service in 2000. China ordered 76 aircraft which were delivered between 2000-2003, and in case of any war, it will be China’s main frontline aircraft as it is its most capable combat aircraft right now.

The SU-30MK2 is the maritime version of the SU-30MKK intended for use by China on its carrier fleet if ever they do get to finally field them. It differs from the SU-30MKK mainly because it uses Chinese-made avionics. China has 24 of these, first delivered in 2004. The official NATO code name for the SU-30MKK is the “Flanker-G”.3

‘Evaluation Notes’
For the “Maneuverability” and “Payload and Range” sections, the following considerations were made:
– Weights with 100% internal fuel was used to try to simulate the aircrafts going into combat with full internal fuel after dropping their External Fuel Tanks.
– The weights of the armaments were not included as the RATIOS and DIFFERENCES BETWEEN BOTH AIRCRAFTS will remain the same if they will be armed with the same type and same number of armaments.
– Data for each aircraft was derived from various websites.4 5

‘Maneuverability’
For both aircraft’s maneuvering capability, I am looking at their LIMIT LOAD FACTOR*, WING LOADING* and POWER TO WEIGHT RATIO.* I would’ve wanted to take a look at more aspects like Stall Speed, Maximum Alpha, etc., but those data are hard to come by for both aircraft.

Hence, these should suffice for now. Remember that a lower Wing Loading means the aircraft can turn tighter and vice-versa, and a higher Thrust-to-Weight Ratio means the aircraft can go faster going straight up or straight down and vice-versa.
Gripen-Flanker_Maneuverability

SUMMARY
POSITIVE LIMIT LOAD FACTOR: Even for both aircraft.
WING LOADING: Favors the Gripen C with its decisive 23% lower wing loading.
– THRUST TO WEIGHT RATIO: Almost even for both aircrafts, with a minute advantage for the Flanker-G.

+++ Typical of its delta-wing design, the Gripen has a relatively large wing compared to its size and weight, and this translates to excellent turning ability especially in the horizontal plane. With its advantage in wing loading and the even numbers for the TTWR, a clear advantage for the Gripen C in terms of maneuverability.

‘Payload and Range’
For Range, I am using INTERNAL FUEL FRACTION (INTFF)* as a rough indicator how far each aircraft can go based on the internal fuel available to them.
Gripen vs. Flanker-G Payload

SUMMARY
INTFF: Favors the Flanker-G by a huge 68%, indicating it can travel 68% farther for the same engine fuel efficiency.
PAYLOAD: Also favors the Flanker-G as it can carry a commanding 57% (2,890 kg) more load than the Gripen C.

+++ Here the Flanker-G’s ability as an OFFENSIVE aircraft shines as it shows it can carry more load and carry it much farther than the Gripen C, making it an ideal strike aircraft to complement its air superiority role.

An SU-30MKK Flanker-G of China's People's Liberation Army Air Force. Photo courtesy of the Top81.cn Website
An SU-30MKK Flanker-G of China’s People’s Liberation Army Air Force. Photo courtesy of the Top81.cn Website

‘Air Combat-related Avionics and Weapons’
Here I am comparing the capability of both aircrafts in terms of Within Visual Range (WVR) and Beyond Visual Range (BVR) air combat thru their Avionics and Weapons available to them. Just some notes, though:
Radar Cross Section (RCS) data are for “clean” aircrafts, with no armaments or fuel tanks
– Tracking range is assumed to be 85% of the Detection Range
– Closing velocity of 3,000 kph (equally divided to each aircraft) used to compute for First Look, First Shot advantage
– Missile impact is based on the top speed of its main BVR missiles
– Radar Detection Ranges and RCS data were taken from these websites:6 7 8 9
Gripen-Flanker_Avionics

SUMMARY
WVR COMBAT: Pretty even as both aircrafts have the avionics and weapons to be competitive in WVR combat
BVR COMBAT: Favors the Gripen C as it can track the Flanker-G 30 km sooner than the Flanker-G can track the Gripen C, and allowing also for maximum BVR missile range it will give the Gripen C a First Look, First Shot advantage of 18 seconds over the Flanker. The Flanker-G though has the advantage of an IRST sensor which is useful in certain tactical situations.

+++ A very impressive result for the Gripen C, by virtue of its extremely low RCS and decent radar. The 9,900% difference in RCS is so large that the Flanker-G’s powerful radar is not able to make up for it.

+++The Flanker-G’s IRST is useful in a limited number of situations as it will enable the Flanker-G to sneak up on its opponents without using its radar (whose emissions can be detected) and fire the first shot if necessary. However it does have limitations, it has a much shorter range than the Flanker-G’s radar at only around 35 km for head on targets,10 which can be further reduced under certain atmospheric conditions.

‘Stealth Characteristics’
While the good detection range of Gripen C’s PS-05A radar was a big factor in its BVR dominance over the Flanker-G, the even bigger factor is its stealth characteristics. While the Gripen per se was NOT designed as a Stealth aircraft, it was designed around the time when the first operational Stealth aircraft in the F-117 Nighthawk was publicly introduced (in 1988),11 so the designers incorporated stealth designs into its basic structure without compromising performance, hence the Gripen ended up with such a low RCS of only 0.1m^2.

The Gripen is already a small, compact fighter with low RCS, but computer modelling was used to optimize areas such as the curves of the aircraft and the engine intakes along with their inlet tubes to deflect radar waves. Special Radar Absorbing Materials were also used in key areas enabling the Gripen to lower its RCS even further and giving it excellent advantage against radar.

On the other hand, the F-16 first entered service almost two decades earlier than the Gripen at a time when stealth technology was just at its infancy, hence no stealth aspect was incorporated into it initially. They did make improvements on the aircraft in the latter versions to reduce its RCS from 5 m^2 to 1.2 m^2,12 but obviously improvements can only go so far without possibly compromising the structural integrity of the aircraft, hence it cannot match the stealth characteristics of the Gripen.

‘Recent Procurements’
In terms of cost, the South African Air Force (SAAF) was able to get the Gripen for USD 77 million per aircraft in 1999,13 but the more recent purchase by Thailand of the same Gripen C costs them between USD 91-96.5 million.14 The difference probably came from the fact that the Thailand deal included more weapons and a comprehensive logistical support while the SAAF deal reportedly did not involve any support package, with the assumption that money for logistical support would come in later as the aircraft was operating.

Note that half of SAAF’s Gripens are currently reportedly grounded as the expected money for support did not materialize. Any deal with the PhAF will likely end up closer to the prices of the Thailand deal than the prices of the SAAF deal. This would make it just about even compared to the USD 77-133 million price of the F-16C Block 50/52+.

‘Parting Shot’
While the F-16C Block 50/52+ could only sort of break even with the SU-30MKK in terms of overall air combat performance, the Gripen C clearly trounces the Flanker-G in BVR and WVR avenues of air combat, at least theoretically. However, if China does go out and buy the more formidable SU-35 Flanker-E, then that will shift the advantage back into China’s favor as the Flanker-E is a very capable aircraft that only an F-22 or F-35 will be able to match up with it one on one. This is because the Flanker-E’s Irbis-E radar has a fantastic 454 km detection range for a 5 m^2 RCS target, and also has a much lower RCS itself compared to the SU-30MKK.15

I feel a bit sorry for the Gripen, I feel it should’ve been more commercially successful and adopted by more countries than it is now instead of losing out in a couple of international fighter procurement contract competitions. The problem with the Gripen is that it doesn’t have the political clout of the American fighters, or the lower prices of the Russian aircrafts. And it doesn’t have the payload/radar range of the other European fighters like the Typhoon or the Rafale.

But I think it is ideal for a country like ours because first, we don’t really need an aircraft with a lot of range or payload as we will be using it mainly for defensive purposes. Second, its single engine means simpler logistical support, and third as we have seen above it is very capable even against the best of China’s CURRENT fighter aircrafts.

And it is also quite popular with the PAF pilots. IMHO, the PAF should forget about the F-16C for now, and focus on getting the Gripen C (the “Flanker-G Killer“, LOL) as the MINIMUM main combat aircraft for the Philippines.

A JAS-39C Gripen of the South African Air Force. Photo courtesy of Saab AB thru Flickr
A JAS-39C Gripen of the South African Air Force. Photo courtesy of Saab AB thru Flickr

SOURCES:

GLOSSARY
LIMIT LOAD FACTOR is the maximum amount of stress load on its structure an aircraft is rated for, and is expressed in number of “G”. The “stress load” refers to the ratio of the Lift of an aircraft to its weight.
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Load_factor_(aeronautics))

WING LOADING is the amount of weight the wing supports during flight, and is expressed in weight per area, or in the metric system, kg/m^2. This is computed by: (Wing Area divided by Weight).
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wing_loading)

THRUST TO WEIGHT RATIO means how much power the aircraft has compared to its weight, and is expressed by a simple number. This is computed by: (The maximum thrust of the aircraft’s engine divided by weight).
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thrust_to_weight_ratio)

INTERNAL FUEL FRACTION is the weight of the internal fuel the aircraft compared to its maximum take-off weight, and is expressed by a simple number. Formula used is: (Maximum internal fuel capacity divided by maximum take off weight).
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fuel_fraction)


Revision History:
(1) November 14, 2013: Originally posted.
(2) March 26, 2014: Updated footnotes to latest standard; Added G-limit as criteria for maneuverability; Added details like Tracking Range, Missile Impact, First Look-First Shot Advantage, etc. to BVR combat criteria.



  1. Pilots eye Gripen fighter jet,
    (https://web.archive.org/web/20131020131355/http://manilastandardtoday.com/2013/07/03/pilots-eye-gripen-fighter-jet/
  2. Saab JAS-39 Gripen,
    (https://web.archive.org/web/20130503155300/https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saab_JAS_39_Gripen
  3. SU-30MKK,
    (https://web.archive.org/web/20130614194948/https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sukhoi_Su-30MKK
  4. Fact file: Saab JAS39 C/D Gripen,
    (https://web.archive.org/web/20170926153001/http://www.defenceweb.co.za/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=522&catid=35:Aerospace&Itemid=107
  5. Su-30MKK Specifications,
    (https://web.archive.org/web/20140111034622/http://sinodefence.com/su-30mkk/
  6. Situation Awareness (Gripen’s PS-05A Radar Detection Range),
    (https://web.archive.org/web/20131016132244/http://www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~dheb/2300/Articles/PG/PGSA.htm
  7. Gripen Radar Cross Section,
    (https://web.archive.org/web/20131216091643/http://www.saairforce.co.za/forum/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=1552
  8. Which Fighter Plane is the No:1 in the Indian Subcontinent in the BVR(Beyond Visual Range) arena?,
    (https://web.archive.org/web/20131102204631/http://www.angelfire.com/falcon/fighterplanes/texts/articles/bestfighter.html
  9. Zhuk-MSE,
    (https://web.archive.org/web/20130131114320/http://www.deagel.com/Aircraft-Warners-and-Sensors/Zhuk-MSE_a001457003.aspx
  10. OLS-35 IRST option for Su-30 family,
    (https://web.archive.org/web/20131212202527/http://igorrgroup.blogspot.com/2009/10/ols-35-irst-option-for-su-30-family.html
  11. Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk,
    (https://web.archive.org/web/20130709013831/https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lockheed_F-117_Nighthawk
  12. Radar Cross Section (RCS),
    (https://web.archive.org/web/20131102130205/http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/stealth-aircraft-rcs.htm
  13. SAAF has no Gripen support contract,
    (https://web.archive.org/web/20170926153739/http://www.defenceweb.co.za/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=31235&catid=74&Itemid=30
  14. Air Force eyes six more Gripen jets,
    (http://www.bangkokpost.com/breakingnews/369209/royal-thai-air-force-eyes-six-more-gripen-jets
  15. SU-35,
    (https://web.archive.org/web/20131019144308/http://www.sukhoi.org/eng/planes/military/Su-35/
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31 thoughts on “The Flanker-G Killer: The JAS-39C Gripen versus the SU-30MKK/MK2 Flanker-G”

  1. the other day it was announce by president that the. acquisition of 12 fa50 will be delayed until nest yeear the the fund allocated for this allocation will be instead use to fund the calamity affected by typhon ylanda in visayas…is it true?

    1. First time I’ve heard about it, and couldn’t find a link that reported that the President said so. Unless we see a credible link about that news, I would have to doubt it. But it is very possible that the AFP Modernization will be delayed (again), the UN put the cost of the Yolanda Super Typhoon to be at USD 15 Billion …

  2. The Gripen does not only have link16. It also have a well proven and highly developed tactical data link that only can be compared with that of the Raptor. It have the highest turnrates of all modern fighters.
    The new version will have irst, advaced aesa-radar that can look backwards, high speed databuss and integrated look-around sensors, thrust/wight over 1, 50% higher range, 25% higher payload and fast supercruise. Still being able to takeoff and land, loaded, on usual roads 9X800 m. Available from 2018.
    At least 70% of the cost for a fighter airplane is for using and upgrading it. The Gripen have proven to cost between 1/20 to 1/3 of other modern fighters to use and upgrade.

    1. The Raptor also uses Link 16 data links, If I’m not mistaken this will be replaced by MADL.

      as far as turn rates, the Raptor is known to have the highest turn rate of any modern fighter at 28 degrees per second at a certain altitude and speed.

      To put things into perspective, the Su-35 comes in second with a 22.5 degree per second sustained turn at certain conditions

      Oppinions at forums from some people in the know seem to have the impression that, of the 3 new Eurocanards the Rankings they have in A-A combat is
      1. EF Typhoon
      2. Rafale
      3. Grippen

  3. As much as I agree with you and I favor the Gripens rather than the F-16’s, it goes back on who calls the shots which is the US. Because it’s powered by GE’s F414, therefore, the US has a say if it wants us to get the Gripens or the F-16’s if the is the closest competitor. Guess what the US will say? Go visit our boneyard in Arizona(f-16 graveyard). Kinda sucks but we’re at the bottom of the totem pole and we need to crawl out of there the soonest possible.

  4. this is only the hitch..any country manufactured aircraft which had U.S. major component need the U.S. approval before it can be sold to any foreign country. South Korea was able to sale fa-50 to the phils. because it has a nod from U.S. but i still prefer U.S. made MRF because availability of parts.

    1. The restriction for weapons with US parts being sold to other countries I think only applies to specific countries that the US does not want to have any business transactions with, like North Korea, for example, or Iran. But if a country is not among those list of countries the US doesn’t want to deal with like ours, I think it will be up to the company and the country to decide.

  5. how about comparing AV8 B Harrier against the SU-30. although the harrier is designated attack aircraft but it is also a superb fighter and weapon flat form when it served during the falkland’s and Iraq war. although they said its difficult to fly and maintenance cost is very high. what is interesting to the upgraded harriers it can carry 6 aim-120 amraam and tomahawk anti ship missiles. and as a weapon flat form capable of vertical take off and it can hover just like a helicopter or hide on trees, hills or buildings that can evade radar detection there is no need for speed and extreme maneuvering. i think the harrier is just right for the philippines.

    1. I’m prioritizing comparing aircrafts that the Philippines might really get. For other aircrafts, I MIGHT do them later if the AFP Modernization slows down and topics dry up.

      Right off the bat though I can say that the AV-8B’s AN/APG-65 radar is no match for the SU-30MKK’s Zhuk-MSE radar because it only has a detection range of 72 km (for a 5 m^2 target). You really need the latest F-16 or F-15 at the very least to match up with Flanker-G. Or a Gripen C …

      1. agree with you that the SU-30MKK radar is superior to the AV-8B radar but i think the AV-8B can overcome this weakness. although an AV-8B Harrier is not a stealth or superiority fighter but since its availability of vertical take off or to hover just like a helo, means it can hide much better than a stealth fighter and no need for high speed and extreme maneuvering. the superiority of the BVR range of the SU-30MKK can be off-set when the Harrier’ when it is in the ground hidden and when the SU-30 MKK is within range, it can just pop-up and release its reliable and potent weapon the aim-120 AMRAAM. and any harrier pilot knows this that it has better advantage in a real war.

  6. good news the u.s. marine corp has stretch the retirement of the AV-8B Harrier II to 2030 but upgrading its capability such as pilot helmet cueing, radar relevance sustainment beyond raytheon APG-65, Link 16 interoperability and etc.

  7. If the cost of JAS-39C or SU-30M Flanker is more than twice the price of SU-27 or Mig-29, I think it is more practical to initially procure MRFs in quantities first then the higher-priced MRFs later on under the present circumstances that we don’t have an MRF.

    1. Much as I love Flankers, I think its just too risky to get anything Russian. Remember what France did when their ally the UK went to war with Argentina: They relayed secrets of the Exocet to the British and also embargoe’d shipments of the Exocet. A similar thing could be done by Russia if we go to war with China …

      1. true indeed ..we have at least up to 2018 to master the F/A 50 and exploit its capabilities to fullest,, Gripen E/F will enter service to swedish airforce..i think we ready to upgrade to next level and Gripen has place in PhAF given its operaational cost per flight hour w/ tremendous capability and note worthy that its was developed during the later stage of Su 35 developement. and i think its AESA raven radar is powerful to pesa irbis radar oft su 35,

  8. I was thinking if the AV-8Bs can be launched on our hamilton class and our new SSVs, if the design is similar to the makassar class. I think it can fit 3 harriers.

  9. Gripens for the PAF, my opinion is a mix of 24 FA-50’s, 24 F-16’s (second-hand C/D variants) and 12-24 Gripens

    1. yeah, based on PAF plan… MRF on YR2021-22 hopefully combo of Gripen C & D.
      Based on their website, “Gripens achieves the lowest operating cost of any fighter currently in operational service.” maybe this feature fits our tight budget.

  10. It seems a good comparison but you’re missing on the data link. We created it in the 70:s with our Draken, It’s a p2p (peer to peer) system, highly developed for about four decades. With it we can kill ‘silently’ send each other radar images etc. No use comparing it to any system using ‘death star’ technology as Link 16 bouncing of some control center in space. Furthermore it has capabilities and speeds that link 16 is nowhere close. We were the ones developing ‘unjamable’ datalinks, long before anyone else.

    It’s also so that we don’t normally tell people what this aircraft really can do, but we used to have configurations made for ‘peace’, and then for ‘war’, now a days at the press of a button (as a guess), changing the limits in-programmed into the aircrafts computer(s), it may be a mistake to not brag a little more, I think so personally, but the Swedish military has a different outlook on it.

    It’s made for taking on Russia, and personally I find Russian aircrafts some of the best, and definitely most beautiful, in the world, So it had to be good from its very beginning. There are also persistent rumors 🙂 that we got so close to the raptors in red flag that we could shoot machine guns at them, before they noticed our ‘hole in the sky’. Not that anyone will tell you about it, not F22 pilots, nor Swedish military, due to several reasons.

    Btw, thar famous ‘cobra’ wasn’t a Russian invention, we had it already with ‘Draken’. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jqiDEcfSnXs

  11. kung mahirap talaga pag kuh un gripen. ako kasi praktikal gusto ko makita un present condition. kasi terriotorial defense lang tayo. ok na ko 24 fa-50s basra capable to carry AMRAAM at harpoon.

    kung may budget talaga go go ako sa gripen. kasi may anti-ship missiles capability na

  12. There’s one thing about the Gripen that people seem to ignore. Even your blog ignored it. That thing is the operating cost of the Gripen. The operating cost of the Gripen is around $7000/hr USD. The operating cost of American fighters starts at around $16000/hr USD. The operating costs of the Russian planes is also much higher which makes the Gripen the least expensive modern fighter in the world despite its great abilities. The soon to be released JAS-39E Super Gripen will be even less expensive to operate despite rivalling the Typhoon in combat capability and rivalling the F-35 in stealth capability.

  13. Tutal usapang praktikal. Ang sabi ng media $60M ang C/D version ng Gripen, ang iisipin mo kagad yun yung flyaway cost ng Gripen, mura parin kumpara sa ibang Western fighter jets pero yung $60M palang yun total cost na yun. Oo kasama na yung training, spare, etc. Ang flyaway cost ng Gripen C/D is $30M, ang Gripen E is $43M. Nabili natin yung Kai Fa-50 for $35M each at flyaway cost palang din ata yun. Kung balak pa bumili ng AFP ng total of 36 fighter jets edi sa Gripen na tayo. Kung di kaya ng maraming Gripen E/F edi 12 Gripen E/F nalang at 24 Gripen C/D. Fit ang Gripen satin, ang priority naman natin defense hindi naman offense at yan yung main purpose ng Gripen, strong defense. Another thing is I hope they can decide before the end of the year. Mataas na ang demand sa Gripen, edi tataas ang presyo niyan. Mas maganda rin kung ma-convince nila ang Saab na dito gawin sa Pilipinas yan para mas mababa ang singil sa atin.

    1. $43M Cost ng E, saan mo nalaman yan? Is it not that Flyaway cost means in laymans term Cost per Unit? The last deal for Gripen(E&F) is sold for $4.68B for 36 units to Brazil, from what I red it comes with a transfer of tech but further details for “Package” is not really specified (I am just tardy researching those).

      Sa tingin mo bakit of all the countries, bakit hindi tayo inaalok or for that matter other “low cost” labor countries are not being offered to built Combat Aircraft such as Gripen and F-16? which by the way they are offering to “Make in India”.

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