South Africa has inked a deal with US defence giant Raytheon Company for an undisclosed number of Paveway II laser-guided bomb (LGB) kits for its fleet of Saab Gripen advanced light fighter aircraft. Raytheon, who made the announcement at the Farnborough airshow, did not disclose a value for the deal, which is also not yet visible on the Armscor tender bulletin system.
The US company says the deal is the first significant American sale to SA in 25 years. “Raytheon will provide the South African military with LGB computer control groups and air foil groups that transform “dumb” bombs into precision-guided munitions for operational test and evaluation on South Africa’s Gripen fighter aircraft,” the company says in a statement.
“Armscor awarded a contract on behalf of the South African Air Force (SAAF) for the procurement of LGB bomb kits. Armscor … is the officially appointed acquisition organisation for the South African DoD (Department of Defence), the statement adds. The direct commercial sale was negotiated with the assistance of South Africa’s Atlantis Corporation and calls for Raytheon to begin delivery next year. In addition to the weapons, Raytheon will provide air- and ground-crew training.
Harry Schulte, vice president of Raytheon’s Air Warfare Systems product line says the “combat-proven Paveway family of weapons is integrated on more than 22 aircraft and serves 41 nations around the globe, making this weapon the ideal choice for the South African warfighter. Raytheon is the sole provider of the Paveway family of weapons and is committed to providing the warfighter with a reliable direct-attack weapon at a cost-effective price.”
Armscor issued a request for quotation for Paveway last year. The Paveway LGB kit turns a standard Mk 82 500-pound (227kg) general-purpose bomb into a GBU-12 laser-guided air-to-ground “smart” bomb and the Mk 83 1000lb (454kg) bomb into a GBU-16. A high degree of accuracy is achieved when an operator (either airborne or ground-based) illuminates a target with a laser designator. The bomb is then guided to a spot of laser energy reflected from the target. The SAAF has already ordered the Rafael/Zeiss Litening III laser designation pod (LDP) for use on the Gripen C single-seat and D dual-seat fighters.
The weapon will provide the Gripen fleet with a full night-attack/all-weather precision guided munition (PGM) capability. According to Raytheon’s fact sheet for the Paveway II, 99 deliveries of guided munitions will yield a circular error probable (CEP) of only 3.6 feet, versus a CEP of 310 feet for the same number of unguided bombs dropped under similar conditions.
It is understood the SAAF chose the Paveway over the similar Denel Dynamics Umbani LGB kit because the former is already integrated onto the Gripen, meaning the acquisition does not incur the SAAF any development and testing costs. The order is therefore in line with the SAAFs stated intention of ordering weapons that have already been cleared for use on the Gripen.
Defence analyst Helmoed-Römer Heitman says the Gripens are still in their OT&E (Operational Testing & Evaluation) phase and are being qualified for the SAAF by SAAB under a R19.8 billion acquisition contract for 26 of the aircraft. “One part of that is to qualify them and clear them for ground attack,” he says. “If we were to do that with South African bombs, SAAB would insist (quite correctly) on clearing them on the aircraft first (carriage trials, release trials, et al) and would charge the earth, in US dollars, to do so. For that reason the SAAF is buying a number of ordinary Mk 82 dumb bombs from an Italian manufacturer whose bombs are already certified to NATO standard, involving no additional cost.
“As regards the Paveway kits, the story is the same, with the addition that we do not have a local LGB at this stage,” Umbani still being under development. SA’s stockpile of Israeli-sourced LGBs have all been phased out, partly because of age and partly because of cool military relations between SA and Israel. This has precluded new military sales and the purchase of spares, a factor that also contributed to the early retirement of the Denel Cheetah C and D – although the main factor for the latter was a budget insufficient to to operate both types (and a low threat environment that means the nation did not immediately need a airborne air defence capability).
“Summing up: By using the Italian bombs and the Paveway kits, the SAAF can get the Gripen cleared for ground attack at minimum cost. It can then later integrate and clear the local weapons [including Umbani] on its own terms and paying in Rand. So there is no question of dumping on the local industry; it is simply a matter of being clever with our money.”