STOCKHOLM -- Sweden's defense minister says the Nordic country is considering whether to let Ukrainian pilots test its JAS 39 Gripen fighter jets.
So far, Sweden has ruled out sending any Gripen fighters to Ukraine, saying it needs them for its own territorial defense. But Defense Minister Pål Jonsson told Swedish broadcaster TV4 that Sweden was looking with a “positive spirit” on a Ukrainian request to allow its pilots to try out the Swedish plane.
“That could, for example, mean test flights, using simulators, learning more about the extensive ground system that is part of the Gripen system," he said Thursday.
Ukraine has long asked for Western fighter jets to help it resist the full-scale Russian invasion, now in its second year. Initially reluctant, the U.S. and other NATO countries recently agreed to allow Ukrainian pilots to receive training to fly F-16 fighters, though none has yet committed to hand over any planes.
Kyiv has also expressed interest in other Western aircraft, including the Gripen, a single-engine aircraft designed to take off and land from dispersed bases and even highways, which some analysts say would make it a good fit for Ukraine's air force. Ukraine currently uses Soviet-era fighters.
Jonsson reiterated Sweden has no immediate plans to transfer Gripen planes to Ukraine.
“We need them for the defense of our territory right now, but we are opening up for letting the Ukrainians test the Gripen," he told TV4. "That is in line with what other countries are doing, both those who operate F-16 and also Tornado" fighters, he said.
In neighboring Denmark, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen on Thursday said the government is working closely with NATO allies on a plan to provide F-16 training to Ukrainian pilots.