Fresh from two ultra-realistic training events — first, the U.S. Air Force’s Red Flag exercise in Nevada (pictured); then, an expeditionary exercise in England — the Swedish air force’s JAS-39 Gripen force is preparing for its first operational deployment, slated for early next year. This would be the Swedish air force’s first combat mission since 1960. Details are few, but rumored destinations include … wait for it … Afghanistan and Chad.
That’s right: Chad, that remote, landlocked Central African country bordering Darfur and crawling with rebels and refugees. Chad, where the European Union maintains a small peacekeeping force that includes a few hundred Swedes. Chad, a country with only a token air force, which borders countries whose air forces are equally token. What, pray tell, would a bunch of high-performance combat aircraft possibly do while deployed to a country like Chad?
Ask the French. For years the Armee de l’Air has kept a handful of Mirage F1s in Chad’s capital of N’Djamena, mostly for reconnaissance flights and for “show-of-force” sorties. While there is basically zero prospect of Swedish Gripens being called upon to fire guns or drop bombs in Chad, they maybe could improve the E.U.’s ability to spot rebel and bandits in the desert wastes.
More likely, they’ll idle in N’Djamena, burn up some avgas, soak up some sun and return home having accomplished nothing. If the Swedes really wanted to boost EUFOR’s aviation capability, they’d send helicopters.