Air force gets fourth Gripen

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The country regains its ability to defend air space.The SA Air Force has taken delivery of its fourth Saab Gripen advanced light fighter aircraft, ordered at a cost of R20 billion, as part of the controversial 1999 arms deal.

The aircraft flies by employing a systems architecture called fly-by-wire, which effectively means a bank of computers moderates all pilot actions. The fighter is fitted with 40 Pentium-type processors to control its cockpit avionics, engine, weapons and flight surfaces.

Aircraft SA03 and SA04 were shipped from Sweden to SA and arrived at the Cape Town docks this week. They were then towed to a nearby air force base.

The aircraft will join SA02 in service with 2 Squadron, based at Makhado, in Limpopo Province, where they are tasked with air defence, among other duties. SA01 is a test and development aircraft and is based at an air force research site near Cape Town.

The fighters are to be armed with short-range German IRIS-T (Infra Red Imaging System Tail/Thrust Vector-Controlled) air-to-air missiles.

Diehl BGT Defence, the company that manufactures the IRIS-T, says the air force placed an order for the weapons in late May through the Department of Defence`s acquisitions agency, Armscor.

It adds the missiles will be fully operational in the SA Air Force “in the course of 2009”.

The arrival of the aircraft follows a series of reports in the mass media that the premature retirement of the Cheetah fighter, due to budget cuts, had left SA defenceless against air attack.

The delivery of the SA Gripen fleet follows an extensive two-year flight test programme at the SAAF`s Test Flight and Development Centre, in the Overberg, to integrate local avionics, defence and combat systems.

Aircraft SA01 first flew in November 2005, at Linköping, Sweden. It was transferred to SA in July 2006 and engaged in an SA-specific flight test programme, which was completed in January 2008.

The Gripen is the most sophisticated fighter to fly in Africa and is generated as generation 4.5. The only generation five aircraft currently in operational service is the US F22 Raptor.



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