The final four of 26 Gripen fighter aircraft ordered by the South African Air Force (SAAF) are expected to arrive in Table Bay Harbour, Cape Town, tomorrow, after travelling by sea from Norrkoping in Sweden.
Although handed over to South Africa, the final four single-seat aircraft were retained in Sweden to take part in Exercise Lion Effort in May.
South Africa purchased nine dual-seat and seventeen single-seat aircraft from Saab of Sweden in 2008 as part of the Strategic Defence Procurement Package (aka ‘arms deal’). All nine dual-seat Gripen D aircraft have already been delivered, while 13 of the Gripen C have been delivered.
Although the final four Gripens are about to be delivered, it is not the end of Gripen development efforts in South Africa.
Speaking at the seventh Africa Aerospace and Defence Exhibition at Air Force Base Waterkloof, Magnus Lewis-Olsson, President of Saab in South Africa, said he was proud of his company’s performance. The Gripen aircraft, he said, had been “delivered on time and on budget, exactly as the customer wanted.”
Lewis-Olsson also took the opportunity to comment on the status of the Gripen programme. The joint South African/Brazilian A-Darter air-to-air missile has been integrated onto the Gripen, as has the British Digital Joint Reconnaissance Pod. The reconnaissance pod is optimised for use at low and medium altitudes.
The Helmet Mounted Display (HMD) system for the Gripen has also been integrated and all systems have been delivered. The A-Darter missile is also compatible with the HMD. South Africa was the first county to implement an operational HMD system.
As such, Saab considers all development activities on the South African Gripen completed. In addition, a complete maintenance capability has been delivered.
Referring to the Defence Industrial Participation (DIP) and National Industrial Participation (NIP) offsets packages arising from the acquisition of Strategic Defence Procurement Package equipment, Saab stated that their obligation has been fulfilled, the amounts being US$800 million and US$7 200 million respectively.
Although all the aircraft have now been delivered, it does not mean the end of Saab’s involvement or the end of Gripen development. Traditionally, fighter aircraft may be used for more than ten years before undergoing a mid-life update. This is an expensive process that takes individual aircraft out of service for some time.
The Gripen, Lewis-Olsson explained, is continuously updated, mainly via software updates to take future weapons into account. The current software version is Weapon System 20.
Saab is already in the process of developing an advanced Gripen version – the Gripen NG. While it is not cost-effective to convert the current Gripen to the new standard, systems used on the new Gripen can be ported back to existing Gripen models. Thus, a future Gripen update may involve using the advanced active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar and Electronic Warfare systems of the Gripen NG.