Gripen back in the air as Saab awarded maintenance contract

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The South African Air Force’s (SAAF’s) Gripen combat jets are taking to the skies once again after original equipment manufacturer Saab was awarded a service and maintenance support contract for the fleet.

The contract is worth R532 million over a three-year period, Saab announced, and runs from 2022 until 2025. It covers service, repairs and maintenance as well as minor updates of the support and training systems of the South African Air Force’s Gripen system.

African Defence Review Director Darren Olivier notes that the actual cost to the Department of Defence will be around R650 million, as VAT, shipping charges, and rate of exchange fluctuations are not included in the base contract cost.

South Africa has been operating the Gripen C/D since 2008 and is Saab’s first export customer for the type.

“I am very happy and satisfied that we have now reached an agreement for a new support contract, so that we in the very best way can support our customers with their operational needs,” said Åsa Schöllin, head of Saab’s business unit Gripen Sustainment.

The South African Air Force was forced to ground the Gripen in September 2021 due to budget constraints that saw a delay in finalising a new maintenance support contract with Saab and GKN as the original airframe and engine manufacturers respectively.

With the maintenance contract being finalised, a Gripen took to the air again on 5 September. Members from 2 Squadron at Air Force Base Makhado as well as Saab representatives assisted in getting the aircraft airworthy ahead of AAD 2022.

Due to the SAAF’s tight budget, the new support contract covers 13 aircraft over three years – the SAAF had 26 Gripen C/Ds, but one was written off following a ground incident. The remaining 12 will remain in storage.

In February, only 25% SAAF aircraft were serviceable with Armscor at the time evaluating bids for aircraft support contracts. In August, Armscor revealed that all SAAF aircraft maintenance contracts were resolved, with 40-odd contracts in place, including for the Gripen and Pilatus fleets as well as the VIP aircraft fleet.