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). For Hungary, the Saab Gripen deal was a favorable combination of factors like price range, performance, and longevity.
With features and capabilities like Air-to-Air Refueling (AAR) probe, Laser Guided Bombs (LGBs), and On Board Oxygen Generation System (OBOGS), the Hungarian Gripen became fully ready for international operations and to perform joint operations with alliance Air and Ground Forces. HunAF Gripens’ first international deployment took place in May 2007 when they flew to Italy to participate in Exercise Spring Flag 07.
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 in April.
The lease contract between FMV and the Hungarian Ministry of Defence was renewed in 2012. With the extended 10-year contract, the Hungarian Air Force will operate Gripen till 2026. The extension also required FMV to upgrade the HunAF Gripens to the MS20 version as per which the Air Force receives more flight hours (from 16000 to 20,000) now.
The MS20 capability enhancement for Gripen C-series involves both hardware and software upgrades, giving a whole series of improvements and new functionality both in terms of the aircraft itself and the ancillary support and training systems. MS20 was first introduced with the Swedish Air Force in 2016.
The new upgraded version of the Hungarian Gripen includes the MBDA Meteor air-to-air missile and small GBU-39 SDB bombs. It also offers an enhanced Link 16 data transmission system and an additional channel that allows communication with forward flight control (JTAC / FAC) soldiers during direct air support (CAS) missions. In addition to night-time reconnaissance, helmet targeting is also made possible, ABC (atomic, biological, chemical) defense levels are improved, and logistical-maintenance processes have been simplified. The MS20, in the long run, will make it easier for the HunAF fighters to integrate new upgrades and capabilities in future.
Last year, during a two-week training at the Vidsel Air Base, Sweden, Hungarian Gripen fighters were put through various training exercises to test the new capabilities that come with the MS20 update.
Here is a video from the exercise.