Gripen support contract unaffordable


The latest support contract for the South African Air Force’s (SAAF’s) Gripen fighters that was offered by Saab is beyond the budget of the Air Force and Armscor is currently negotiating to reduce the price. In the meantime, the Gripen fleet remains grounded.

This is according to Armscor, which provided an update on the status of the maintenance of the SAAF fleet in a presentation prepared for Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans. It stated that there is currently no product support contract for the Gripen and the type remains grounded.

“Armscor has been engaged with numerous contract negotiations. Due to changing SAAF requirements to suite the budget, the process is being restarted to ensure that the future contract will ensure operational aircraft.”

Armscor said it is of concern that the current SAAF budget allocation has been inadequate since the inception of the steady state support contract. Of general concern is that the aircraft are ageing and require midlife upgrades, which are currently unfunded. The Gripen also needs to be equipped with a beyond visual range missile to be an effective air superior aircraft, but this is unfunded as well.

Of the 26 aircraft in the fleet, 13 are unserviceable; two are beyond economical repair; and 11 are in long-term storage. It emerged in December last year that the entire fleet was grounded due to a lack of maintenance and support contracts not being renewed. Negotiations between Saab, the SAAF and Armscor over the support contract have taken longer than expected, resulting in the continued grounding.

Most of the SAAF’s other combat jets are not flying either. A product system support contract for the Hawk lead-in fighter-trainers is in place and remains valid until 30 August 2024 – this is with BAE Systems and is worth R250 million. However, the current funding provided by the SAAF is to maintain nine aircraft – additional funding will be required to maintain the full complement of 24 aircraft that was procured. Of the 24, 12 are in long-term storage, three are beyond economical repair, two are grounded and seven are operational.