If we consider both aircraft to have a similar RCS despite their different physical sizes, the Gripen has a clear advantage here. It has better radar and better IRST. Its smaller, single engine design give it a smaller IR signature. Advantage: Gripen
Beyond Visual Range: When the Super Hornet replaced the F-14 Tomcat, it was neglected to carry over the F-14’s AIM-54 Phoenixlong-range air-to-air missile. This is a shame. Instead, the Super Hornet must make do with the ubiquitous AIM-120 AMRAAM medium range missile. There is certainly nothing wrong with the AMRAAM, it is the benchmark from which all other BVR missiles are compared. The Phoenix was something special, however.
Then again, maybe the Gripen now carries the “next big thing” in BVR air-to-air missiles. The MBDA Meteor uses a ramjet instead of a rocket to give it a more controlled flight to the target. This not only improves its range, but its pK (probability of kill).
Even without the Meteor, the Gripen still has the advantage. Not only does it boast a higher top speed and rate of climb, but it is capable of supercruise. This allows it to give its missiles substantially more energy. It also plays to the cliche “Speed is life… Altitude is life insurance.”
Sorry, Rhino fans, the Saab wins this one. Advantage: Gripen
Within Visual Range: There is no ignoring the laws of physics on this one. The Gripen is faster and smaller. It has superior wing loading. Its inherently unstable, tail-heavy, delta canard layout takes full advantage of fly-by-wire flight controls. The Gripen wants to constantly change direction, but its on-board computers keep it in check until the pilot wants it too. If that was not enough, the Gripen comes equipped with HMD’s and just about whatever WVR missile you desire.
While the Super Hornet improves on the legacy Hornet in most ways, raw speed and turning power just about equal to, and sometime inferior to, the older model. The legacy Hornet actually boasts slightly better wing loading, and thrust-to-weight ratios. Matters are complicated further when he Super Hornet mounts its draggy pylons. The Rhino does indeed have its kludgy IRST and HMD to help matters somewhat against opponents without such gear, but its not enough to outperform the Gripen here. Advantage: Gripen
Dogfight: When things get up close and personal, the Super Hornet finally starts evening the air-to-air score. The Super Hornet seems most comfortable when flying lower speeds at high angles of attack (AoA). The Rhino driver has remarkable control over the aircraft in this regime, able to point the Super Hornet’s nose (and gun) wherever they want. Its 20mm M61 cannon has been around for roughly a half-century now, and for good reason.
The Gripen’s close-coupled canards help it when flying high AoA as well. It may lack the “notability” of the Super Hornet, but it certainly is no slouch. At the very least, it has the ability to accelerate away from its slower opponent.
The Gripen’s 27mm BK-27 Mauser cannon forgoes ammunition and maximum firing rate for hitting power. While the F/A-18 can “pray and spray” the Gripen prefers to make its shots count. It should be noted that the two-seat Gripen F goes without a cannon altogether, using that space for co-pilot. It should also be noted that the EA-18G and “hybrid” versions of the Super Hornet also trade in their cannon for EW equipment.
With no clear winner, this one is a toss-up. Advantage: Draw
Air-to-air winner: While the Super Hornet may have dominated the air-to-ground round, the air-to-air round easily goes to the Gripen. Again, there is no arguing with physics. Bigger fighters can carry more stuff, while smaller fighters can be quicker and more agile. The Gripen is also helped by its sensors.
Of course, no discussion about the Super Hornet is complete without mentioning its nerdy, AV club member brother, the EA-18 Growler. Different enough to be considered a different aircraft, the Growler is still similar enough that any nation purchasing the Super Hornet would be daft not order a few Growlers as well. The availability of the EA-18 makes this category pretty much decided. Advantage: Super Hornet
Logistics: One Hercules aircraft. That is all that is needed to carry the spares and service equipment needed to support a ten-aircraft deployment of Gripens for up to four weeks. For every three hours in the air, it requires roughly one hour of maintenance (compared to 1:1 or worse for most aircraft). Turn-around for an air-to-air mission can be done in under 10 minutes by a team of six. It can land on a decent stretch of road and be serviced from a truck.
The Super Hornet is said to be even simpler to maintain than the legacy Hornet. Despite being a larger aircraft, it uses less parts in its construction. It was designed to be maintained within the tight confines of a aircraft carrier. If it were being compared to any other fighter besides the Gripen, it would likely have the advantage.
Oddly enough, the Super Hornet has helped contribute to the Gripen NG. It’s GE414 engines have proven to be so successful in the Super Hornet that they have been adopted for use in the Gripen with very little modification. The Gripen’s previous engine, the RM12 was derived from the GE404 used in the legacy Hornet, but modified for durability and reliability. Exemplary service in the Super Hornet proved that such modification were not needed for GE414.
The Gripen would likely get the nod here simply based on using a single GE414 instead of two. It goes much farther, however. It is hard to come up with an modern fighter that has a smaller logistical footprint than the Gripen. Advantage: Gripen
Versatility/Logistics winner: The Super Hornet is the more versatile machine, thanks to its smorgasbord of attachments and its electronic warfare variant. The Gripen is much easier to bring into the action, requiring only a bare minimum of additional support. What really needs to be said here is that BOTH aircraft are very good in either of these categories. Winner: Tie
Air-to-air: Gripen = 4 – Super Hornet = 1
Flexibility/Logistics: Gripen = 1 – Super Hornet = 1
Final Result: Gripen = 6 – Super Hornet = 6