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Saab Gripen-E which is one of the contender in the IAF’s MRFA tender for 114 jets was not the first instance when Swedish jet was offered to India. The 1970s saw India’s testing and showing interest in pursuit of the Swedish Saab JAS 39 Gripen fighter jet, that ultimately was blocked by the US due to Cold War tensions. Here, we explore an alternate history where the US greenlights the sale of the Saab Viggen to India in the late 70s, with deliveries starting around 1979. Let’s see how this could have impacted various aspects.

By the 1980s, the IAF’s focus had have shifted towards deeper penetration strike missions, where the Viggen’s long range and sophisticated navigation systems would have been more valuable. The Viggen’s advanced capabilities, including a powerful engine, all-weather operation, and robust short-field performance, had undoubtedly appealed to the IAF. It could have potentially filled a niche for deep penetration strike missions beyond the capabilities of the Jaguar and MiG-27.

The IAF was interested in inducting a larger fleet of Viggens, that could have potentially replaced some of the MiG-27 orders or relegating them to a more specialized role. While the MiG-27 remained a workhorse for the IAF, a successful Viggen induction might have seen the IAF prioritize it for specific roles. The Viggen’s superior performance could have led to a larger fleet procurement compared to the MiG-27.

The specific Viggen variant that were to be sold to India was that of the A/AJ variants that were primarily focused on ground attack, while the JA/JAS variants offered advanced air defense capabilities. IAF had need for nearly 300 units of Jaguar and MiG-27 jet that were later locally assembled in India but Viggen sale to India could have negated such need for two separate types for Strike missions.

Overall, a successful Viggen acquisition by India could have had a ripple effect, potentially boosting Saab’s sales and influencing the IAF’s future airpower strategy. However, the IAF had to settle for much inferior Jaguars that were designed initially as a Trainer Aircraft that became a later optimised as a Strike aircraft that is still in service with IAF and could serve till 2035.