Recce pod integration programme for SA Gripen proceeding at full speed: SAAB


SAAB has successfully carried out an integration test flight of a South African Air Force (SAAF) Gripen C advanced light fighter aircraft fitted with a Thales Digital Joint Reconnaissance Pod (DJRP). The flight paired aircraft number 16 with one of four pods reportedly ordered at an undisclosed cost at the SAAB test and evaluation facility at Linköping in central Sweden.

The Swedish aircraftmaker in a statement says the DJRP completed its factory bench integration tests in June this year and is currently completing integration tests on the actual aircraft. The reconnaissance pod will be delivered to Armscor for the SAAF after the integration phase has been completed in the new year.
“We are at full speed ahead regarding our weapons’ and integration program for Gripen,” says Gripen test pilot Johan Sjöstrand. “The capabilities of Gripen and the ease of weapons and sensor integration are exceeding all our expectations. It is a truly remarkable platform to work with and fly. We see no boundaries and limitations for this aircraft and we look forward to continue our co-operation with our customers to keep Gripen at the cutting edge of technology”, he added.

Thales South Africa CE Christian Lamoureux in September said his company was “proud of this important milestone in our long-standing relationship with the SAAF.” Thales Optronics’ sales and marketing director Geraint Lloyd in a media statement released at the Africa Aerospace & Defence 2010 show in Cape Town describes the DJRP as “a bespoke reconnaissance sensor with broad-area swath coverage”, and confirmed that the company was selected via prime contractor Saab. The DJRP is designed to be integrated onto fighter aircraft and take high-resolution images of the battlefield as it flies overhead. The digital images from the pod are then exploited by image analysts on the ground to assess what tactical decisions need to be taken.

The deal covers the pods and related ground exploitation equipment and also has the potential for future upgrades such as the addition of a real-time data transfer function, Lloyd added. But the programme may be further along than the September statement suggested. Journalists attending the SAAF’s air capability demonstration earlier that month were given a black-and-white photograph printed on site at Roodewal of the crowd watching the spectacle, downloaded by datalink from a passing Gripen.

Flightglobal added Thales Optronics beat competition from Rafael’s Reccelite and a system already in use with the Swedish Air Force’s Gripens – believed to be from Danish supplier Terma – to win the SAAF deal. The selection represents a follow-on success for Thales, with the company having previously acquired British supplier W Vinten, which provided its Vinten 18 wet film reconnaissance systems for the SAAF’s now-retired Denel Cheetah fighters, Flightglobal added.

Weighing around 250kg, the DJRP has already been integrated with the UK Royal Air Force’s BAE Systems Harrier GR7/9 and Panavia Tornado GR4 strike aircraft, and with BAE’s Hawk advanced jet trainer. With the SAAF’s inventory including 24 Hawk 120s, Lloyd says the reconnaissance pod’s “multi-platform capability” was a significant factor in its selection for the service.

South Africa has ordered 17 Gripen C and nine Gripen D, the latter the two-seat variant. All of the D’s have been delivered, as has six C’s, making for 15 aircraft. Aircraft 16, used for the integration test flights is next to be delivered.