The Gripen is a multirole fighter aircraft, intended to be a lightweight and agile aerial platform incorporating advanced, highly adaptable avionics. It has control surfaces which contributes a positive lift force at all speeds, while the generous lift from the compensates for the rear stabilizer producing negative lift at high speeds, increasing . Being and employing digital flight controls to maintain stability removes many flight restrictions, improves , and reduces drag. The Gripen also has good short takeoff performance, being able to maintain a high sink rate and strengthened to withstand the stresses of short landings. A pair of are located on the sides of the rear fuselage; the canards also angle downward to act as air brakes and decrease landing distance. It is capable of flying at a 70-80 degrees angle of attack.
In July 2013, assembly began on the first pre-production aircraft. Originally 60 JAS 39Cs were to be retrofitted to the E-models by 2023, but this has been revised to Gripen Es having new-built airframes and some reused parts from JAS 39Cs. The first production aircraft is to be delivered in 2018. In March 2014, Saab revealed the detailed design and indicated it planned to receive military type certification in early 2018. The first Gripen E was rolled out on 18 May 2016.
Developing an advanced multi-role fighter was a major undertaking for Sweden. The predecessor Viggen, despite being less advanced and less expensive, had been criticized for occupying too much of Sweden's military budget and was branded "a cuckoo in the military nest" by critics as early as 1971. At the 1972 party congress of the , the dominant party in Swedish politics since the 1950s, a motion was passed to stop any future projects to develop advanced military aircraft. In 1982, the Gripen project passed in the by a margin of 176 for and 167 against, with the entire Social Democratic party voting against the proposal due to demands for more studies. A new bill was introduced in 1983 and a final approval was given in April 1983 with the condition that the project was to have a predetermined fixed-price contract, a decision that would later be criticized as unrealistic due to later cost overruns.