Gripens arrive at last


The South African Air Force (SAAF) had to wait an additional two weeks before receiving its newest Gripen fighter jets.

The ship bringing the four aircraft from Sweden to Cape Town has a mechanical problem, delaying her arrival in port by two weeks. The four Gripen C single-seat fighters were loaded aboard the cargo vessel Achtergracht (registered in Amsterdam) at the port of Norrkoping in Sweden on September 1.

Although due in Cape Town on 23 September, the Achtergracht blew a turbo charger and had to sail at reduced speed. The ship then anchored off Walvis Bay for a week before eventually arriving in Table Bay Harbour, Cape Town, in the early hours of Saturday.

Two single-seat aircraft, reported as serials 3920 to 3923, were towed the 8km from the harbour to AFB Ysterplaat on Saturday afternoon, while the second batch of two aircraft (possibly 3921 and 3922) were towed to the airforce base on Sunday morning. These times were selected as to cause the least amount of inconvenience to motorists.

They will be made ready for flight at the air force base prior to departure.

The original Gripen order, placed in 2008 as part of the new defence equipment package, was for nine Gripen D dual-seat and 19 Gripen C single-seat aircraft. However, the order was revised in 2005 to nine dual-seat and seventeen single-seat aircraft.

Armscor, the South African arms procurement agency, is responsible for the delivery of the aircraft to South Africa once they have been handed over by the aircraft manufacturer, SAAB, in Sweden. All nine dual-seat Gripen D aircraft have already been delivered, while 14 of the Gripen C have now been delivered.

The last four Gripen single-seaters will be retained in Sweden to take part in Exercise Lion Effort next year. Lion Effort, scheduled for April/May, is a major Swedish Air Force exercise held every two years. Next year’s edition should see several Gripen operators taking part. Other than SA and Sweden, Gripen operators include Thailand, the Czech Republic and Hungary. Thereafter, the last four South African aircraft to be ordered will also be shipped to South Africa, completing delivery of all the airplanes, helicopters, ships and submarines ordered under the 2008 ‘arms deal’.