The South African Air Force’s fleet of advanced fourth generation multi-role Saab Gripen D fighters has grown to five with the delivery of the latest addition just before the holiday season.
The aircraft, a dual seat operational type conversion variant, arrived in Cape Town on 29 November. South Africa ordered 26 Gripens of which nine are dual seat aircraft and elected to have the latter delivered first.
The SA Air Force Gripen fleet, with one exception, is operated by 2 Squadron, stationed at AFB Makhado in South Africa`s northern Limpopo province. The exception is the first-delivered warplane, SA01, which is assigned to the Gripen Test Flight Centre at the SAAF Test Flight & Development Centre at AFB Overberg, east of Cape Town.
Two Saab company trainers are currently teaching the first group of six SAAF pilot instructors at the Centralised Training Centre at Makhado.
All six pilots made their first Gripen solo flights on 26 October. The six are graduates of the BAE Systems Hawk Mk120 Lead-In Fighter Trainer that has a cockpit specifically designed to replicate the Gripen`s in order to aid the conversion process.
Two Swedish instructor pilots will be based at Makhado until about March 2010 to train and support of the local pilots. Earlier this year, South African technicians were given a full maintenance type conversion course for the Gripen fighter, as well as training on the ground support equipment which has been delivered with the aircraft.
In addition to the comprehensive conversion-to-type training for pilots and maintenance technicians, Saab has also provided and delivered mission simulators, a computer-based training system and an extensive logistics support package consisting of ground support equipment, spare parts and enabling products to the SAAF. These are located at AFB Makhado as well as other supporting bases.
Saab also separately announced last week
that that is has now completed its SEK 2.8 billion (R3.47 billion on 21 December) comprehensive Skills and Technology Transfer Programme (STTP) that began in 2000.
“Saab`s technology transfer programme to South Africa has now been completed and [Department of Defence acquisition agency] Armscor has approved the result.
STTP project manager Alf Palm says the technology transfer has taken place in several areas, notably in systems development, airframe design, production, flight testing and logistics.
“Our task was to transfer technology and expertise to South Africa and South African industry,” he says.
The training has taken place at Saab in Linkoping, Sweden, and during the eight year programme no fewer than 50 South African families have lived in Linköping for durations of around two years. The first arrived in November 2000 and the final ones returned home in December 2007.
Saab to submit Gripen tender for Brazil
In a related development, Saab has welcomed a formal Request for Proposal (RFP) from the Brazilian air force for the supply of Gripen to the Lain American country.
“Saab will submit a bid including 36 Gripen NG (Next Generation) to meet the requirement for future multi-role fighter aircraft for the Brazilian Air Force. We are convinced that Gripen NG is the perfect fit for Brazil`s future needs,” Saab executive vice president Lennart Sindahl said.
The company says it will answer the RFP in February. Brazil is expected to make a decision on the aircraft later in the year.
The company has in the meantime also commented on Norway`s selection of the Lockheed Martin F35 Lightning II “Joint Strike Fighter” as its replacement for the aging F16 fleet. The Gripen had been shortlisted alongside the F35 for the project.
“The Norwegian prime minister`s announcement on 20 November that Norway had chosen the American F35 Joint Strike Fighter came as a surprise to Saab,” says CEO Åke Svensson. “The arguments put forward seemed to have very little, or no, establishment in the preceding procurement process.
“We did not recognise ourselves in the assessment of Gripen`s operational capacity or the description of its costs. It sounded like the description of another aircraft. The industrial co-operation we had promised to create, to a value of up to 50 billion [Norwegian crowns], seemed not to have been of any greater importance.
“Saab fully respects Norway`s right to procure the aircraft representing its government`s preference. We have been in the industry long enough to know that these types of decisions contain several different considerations; they are sometimes to our advantage and sometimes not.
“However, Saab must clearly point out our view that the reasons publicly brought forward by the Norwegian government cannot rest on a thorough evaluation of the alternatives.
“The claim that Gripen does not fulfil Norway`s operational demands and that Gripen would prove essentially more expensive must, according to our view, rest on an incomplete, or even faulty, analysis. It is not only important for Saab that certain facts are clarified, it is equally important for existing and future procurers of Gripen as well as for our partners and shareholders,” Svensson says.
He adds that Saab has conducted a thorough evaluation of the information communicated by the Norwegian government in relation to the decision. As such the company holds that
- claims that Gripen does not meet the Norwegian air force`s demand rests on simulations containing incomplete or non-existent capacity information
- the alleged life cycle cost does not rest on experience of the Gripen system but has been calculated by applying own assumptions and models of calculations.
- conditions underpinning the calculation are in parts radically altered and based on internal Norwegian assumptions.
Simulations with incomplete data
“The claim that Gripen does not fulfil the operational requirements required by the Norwegian air force is important to understand. It also turns out to be founded on simulations previously unknown to us. To our understanding those simulations must be based on incomplete performance information, simply because such information about Gripen has neither been communicated to us nor requested from us or the Swedish government.
“The Norwegian evaluation committee has thereby not had access to the parameters required to reach the announced results. Saab therefore makes the judgment that the basis for the decision cannot have been sufficient for the far-reaching conclusions made in these previously unknown simulations.
Price comparisons with inadequate assumptions
“A key argument for Gripen is its extremely competitive life cycle cost. Compared to competing aircraft Gripen is a cost effective alternative. Therefore, it was a great surprise to Saab when the Norwegian evaluation committee concluded that Gripen would have a higher life cycle cost.
“It is not consistent with what we know of the costs of keeping different air crafts operational over time. If the claimed estimates are correct it would be cheaper for Norway to obtain JSF, even if Sweden would have developed and given 48 Gripen Next Generation (NG) as a gift to Norway. It should be unreasonable.
“It also turns out that the Norwegian estimate to a large extent rests on previously undisclosed conditions and complex re-calculations and assumptions. It is Saab`s assessment that only 20 percent of the Norwegian evaluation committees cost estimates are based on the facts presented in the Swedish offer.
“Remaining estimates represents, according to our view, assumptions and self-made estimates, not based on information that has been confirmed by us,” the company says.
The number of aircraft has been changed from 48 to 58 and the operational life cycle has been extended from 25 to 35 years. “These are two new conditions entirely decisive for the calculation.
“That these calculations to a large extent have been conducted without dialogue is most unusual and has contributed to an incorrect picture of the alternatives.
“Three examples of assumptions which have great effects on the calculation concerns upgrade costs, crashes and fuel consumption. It is our view that the calculations have a weak or non-existing relation to the Swedish offer or from the gathered experience of Gripen.
“Saab`s own calculations of upgrade costs are based on 50 years of experience of developing and upgrading fighter aircraft to customers in Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Austria, Hungary and the Czech Republic.
“Norway has applied its experiences from the F16 to these costs – a very different and in important aspects non-comparable aircraft. Upgrade costs according to the Norwegian calculation are several times higher than the costs Saab and Swedish authorities have calculated and provided.
“Our estimated value of fuel consumption is based on experience from 120 000 flight hours with Gripen.
“Even though the Norwegian specification of requirements seeks lowered fuel consumption, the evaluation committee chooses to raise the values we have provided, adding further additional costs.
“The cost for replacing aircraft is part of the estimation, with the assumption that almost half of the aircraft fleet will crash in 35 years. This is completely unfounded if applied to Gripen`s statistics. This also adds further billions to the calculation.
“Further to this is a number of questions that the Norwegian evaluation group has chosen not to respond to, such as what specific currency rate was used, what price was used for calculating purchase of further aircraft, what other considerations in the calculation that had the procurement price as basis for the calculation and how much the weapon procurement was estimated to.
“Saab has not received any information that makes us change our understanding of the accuracy of our initial calculation. However, should we adjust our calculations according to the new information, Gripen is still faced with a total cost that substantially falls short of the published figures.
“The evaluation has undergone external quality inspection in Norway. Given that there are in our view many apparent unreasonable assumptions and calculations regarding the economic evaluation, it reasonably also casts some doubt over the operational evaluation,” the company adds.
Moving on towards new markets
“Saab respects the Norwegian decision and is fully aware that many considerations, political as well as other, govern this type of procurement processes. From our perspective, it is however entirely unreasonable that our main product has been claimed not to fulfil operational demands for future threats that could come to affect our clients without being able to meet these claims.
“It is also entirely unreasonable that the Norwegian evaluation committee, according to us, allocates a price to our product not based on accurate facts. To Saab it is important to call attention to that claims of Gripen`s insufficient performance and high costs are not founded on recognized facts and experiences.
“We now move on and gather strength on markets where there is a real interest to evaluate Gripen based on our offers and a genuine and mutual interest to establish long-term industrial cooperation.
“Gripen is a very competitive alternative, operationally as well as financially. Saab`s goal to sell 200 aircraft on the export market remains and today we are pursuing active marketing towards eight potential customer countries. We are confident that we will conduct many more successful deals.”