It has been 14 years since Gripen became a part of the Hungarian Air Force. The first batch of Gripen fighters arrived at Kecskemét air base on 21 March, 2006. Initially, the new Gripens operated together with the old MiG-29s, but by the end of 2010, the Gripen fleet became the sole guardian of the Hungarian airspace. The Hungarian Air Force and the Gripens have crossed many milestones together ever since.
For Hungary, the Saab Gripen deal was a favorable combination of factors like price range, performance, and longevity. Gripen offered capabilities like Air-to-Air Refueling (AAR) probe, Laser Guided Bombs (LGBs), and On Board Oxygen Generation System (OBOGS).
The fighters were fully ready for international operations and to perform joint operations with alliance Air and Ground Forces. The HunAF Gripens were sent for their first international deployment to Italy (Exercise Spring Flag 07). The aim of the participation was to expose the fighters and the pilots to an interoperable environment with a large number of dissimilar aircraft.
In November 2012, the entire fleet of 14 Hungarian Gripens flew together in uniform for the first time in the history of the Hungarian Gripen programme. A year later, the Gripens logged in 10,000 flight hours, another important milestone for the Hungarian Air Force.
With Gripen, the Hungarian Air Force effectively transitioned into a NATO Air Force as well. In the past decades, the Hungarian Gripen fighters have participated in various NATO exercises and missions. They flew their first mission in Baltic (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) airspace in the year 2015 and then later led the mission again last year from May to September. During their four-month-long mission at the Baltics last year, the Hungarian Gripens were alerted over 40 times with a total of over 370 take-offs and 400 flight hours.
The first Gripen lease contract was signed between the Swedish Defence Material Administration (FMV) and the Hungarian Ministry of Defence in February 2003 for the supply of 14 Gripen C/D fighters (12 single-seater and 2 two-seater aircraft). The lease contract was renewed in 2012. With the extended 10-year contract, the Hungarian Air Force will operate Gripen till 2026. With this lease, the HunAF Gripens have also been upgraded to the MS20 version which includes an updated engine control system, aircraft control system, and avionics system among other things. But the most striking part of the upgrade was the enhancement of HunAF’s air-to-ground capabilities. The Hungarian Air Force tested the MS20 features in 2018 in Sweden.
A few months back, the Hungarian Air Force also received a complete Deployable Maintenance Facility (DAM) solution from Saab. DAM will not just play an important role in improved aircraft maintenance capabilities, but also in increasing the operational readiness of the HunAF Gripen fighters.