Gripens flight hours suffer under austere budget


The South African Air Force cannot afford to put its new Gripen jet fighters into flight for the required number of hours, Lieutenant General Carlo Gagiano has conceded. “No, we are not going to fly the required number of hours,” the air force chief told a media briefing in Cape Town ahead of Defence Minister Lindiwe Sisulu’s budget vote in the National Assembly.

“But the hours that we will fly will ensure that the people and the aircraft are safe and that we do the correct training.” The South African Press Association reports Gagiano said the air force was getting around the problem by having the cockpits of its fleet of 24 Hawk jet trainers “Gripenised” to make for a smoother transition for pilots from one to the other. “We have a few mitigating strategies. First of all as a design principle, we have decided to Gripenise the cockpit of the Hawk so that means that the transition from Hawk to Gripen is almost seemless and very quick.
“People adapt to the new environment. It is basically just higher performance but they are totally used to the systems. We are also in the process of upgrading the PC-7’s cockpits which is enhancing this process and we intend to pull down work from Gripen to Hawk to PC-7 to do the same kind of training but at a much lower cost.”

He said the air force was also using Gripen simulators extensively and this was working very well.

Gagiano said so far 15 Gripen have been delivered from Sweden, SAPA added. The rest would be shipped stored there free of cost by the Swedish Air Force and shipped in batches. Gagiano did no mention the three Gripen that arrived in Cape Town by sea at the weekend, bringing the number to 18. He did say the next batch would be delayed to allow SAAF pilots to fly SAAF Gripen fighters in a Nordic exercise over Sweden later this year.

The SAAF chief said the shortage of funding for the Gripen was part of the shortage of funds felt by the defence force. “Gripen is part of this under-funding, perhaps because of the cause of this capability it is perhaps more visible there.” The air force’s budget amounts to about R6 billion of the total defence budget of R34.6 billion, which Sisulu described as “totally inadequate”.