Hungary to expand Gripen fleet with four new fighter jets

Hungary is expanding its air force's fleet of Gripen fighter jets with four new aircraft, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said after meeting Swedish counterpart Ulf Kristersson in Budapest on Friday.

The extension of Hungary’s Gripen contract will significantly boost the military’s capabilities and capacity to take part in foreign missions, Orbán told a press conference.

The changed security environment and the war between Russia and Ukraine make it especially important to enable the Hungarian air force to use its own equipment in performing operations with its allies outside the country’s airspace, he added.

Orbán said he and Kristersson had agreed to extend a related logistics contract and expand it to training.

Also, an agreement has been reached on Saab and the Defence Innovation Research Institute opening an artificial intelligence-focused centre of excellence, Orbán said, adding that the two countries will also begin cooperating in R+D.

The prime minister noted that there had been a debate during the tenure of his first administration between 1998 and 2002 on whether Hungary needed to develop its own air defence capabilities and with what kind of technology. The government then had chosen to cooperate with the Swedes, leading to its use of Gripen fighters, he said. Orbán said they had now arrived at a key point, as the contracts were set to expire.

“Since we were poor when we bought the first Gripens, we couldn’t buy as many as we actually needed,” Orbán said.

In response to a question, he said that by signing the agreements, Hungary had decided to maintain and incerase its air defence capabilities, adding this meant that Hungary would remain part of joint NATO operations in which member states secure the defence of each other’s air spaces. Orbán said this also strengthened Hungary’s commitment to NATO.

He thanked Kristersson for his visit, and, referring to Sweden’s NATO membership, said Hungary’s parliament will convene on Monday and “make the necessary decisions” that will bring one phase to a close and begin another.

Asked why Hungary’s opinion had changed on Sweden’s NATO accession, Orbán said NATO membership meant that the allied countries were prepared to fight for each other, adding that maintaining such strong ties with a country required trust and mutual respect.

That was why, he said, both countries had made careful preparations to rebuild the past trust between them. “This took some time,” he said, adding that the recent developments were not a matter of Hungary changing its opinion, but about a process with a beginning and an end.

Orbán rejected the idea that the new bilateral defence agreement was a determining factor. “This isn’t a business deal involving NATO membership in exchange for Gripens,” the prime minister said. He said that Swedish-Hungarian defence cooperation “is a much longer story than Sweden’s intention to join NATO”. He added, at the same time, that a defence cooperation agreement contributed a lot to restore trust between the two countries, “but let’s not see this as a deal”.

Orbán described his talks with Kristersson as “interesting, exciting and productive”, emphasising that they had both made their “mutually good intentions” clear. He noted that Sweden had been a friend of Hungary in 1956 when it welcomed Hungarian refugees, and had been a crucial partner during Hungary’s European Union accession, too, when it argued for swifter enlargement.

Meanwhile, Orbán said they had also discussed EU matters, with a special emphasis on Hungary’s upcoming presidency. He praised the Swedish presidency of the first half of 2023, saying Sweden had promised to share its experiences with Hungary.

Orbán said their discussion had also touched on the EU’s economic competitiveness on the global stage, the development of common security and defence policy, the need to fight illegal migration and cooperation in the elimination of organised crime.

He hailed bilateral trade cooperation, noting that trade turnover has tripled compared with 2010 and is approaching 3 billion euros. Bilateral cooperation in the area of nuclear energy is also effective, Orbán said, welcoming the Swedish participation in the upgrade of Hungary’s Paks nuclear power plant. He also noted that some 70,000 Swedish tourists visited Hungary last year.

Kristersson said the new agreements served both Sweden’s and Hungary’s interests.

The two countries have signed two military industry deals, as part of which Hungary will procure another four JAS-39 Gripen fighter jets from Sweden, he noted. Hungary currently leases 14 Gripens from Sweden, which will transfer into Hungarian ownership in 2026, he said.

The deal will also strengthen European security, he said, noting that the Hungarian Gripens also participate in policing Baltic airspace near Sweden.

Kristersson also pointed out Sweden’s and Hungary’s strong business relations, noting that there are 180 Swedish companies present in Hungary employing around 170,000 people.

He identified economic cooperation, competitiveness and the internal market as areas with potential for progress in bilateral relations. He said Sweden respected the fact that Hungary’s parliament was making a “Hungarian decision” concerning Sweden’s NATO accession, adding that this was not a formality. Asked about past disagreements between the two countries, Kristersson said he was in agreement with Orbán that they should work together in areas where they have common ground and shared interests.

Defence Minister: Hungarian armed forces enhanced by 4 new Gripens

The Hungarian Armed Forces will be enhanced thanks to the procurement of four new Gripen fighter jets, Kristof Szalay-Bobrovniczky, the defence minister, said on Friday. Given Hungary’s bigger role abroad and the changed security environment, the Hungarian government has decided to purchase four JAS-39Cs in addition to the existing 14 JAS-39 Gripen multi-purpose combat aircraft.

The new aircraft will enhance Hungary’s ability to protect its airspace in line with national and NATO expectations, the ministry said in a statement.

The minister noted that Hungarian JAS-39s have policed Baltic countries’ airspace three times as part of a NATO mission, and they will return in 2025. Also, Hungary and Italy help to protect the airspace of Slovenia and Slovakia in cooperation with V4 member states.

Sweden and Hungary have also agreed on a ten-year extension of logistics services provided by the Swedes and training cooperation.

Furthermore, a Centre of Excellence employing AI will be established based on a cooperation agreement between the ministry and Sweden’s SAAB, the minister said.

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