Saab puts senior executive in SA to push for Gripen MS20 upgrade


Saab has placed a senior executive in South Africa to try and persuade the South African Air Force (SAAF) to buy into the Gripen’s latest upgrade progamme.

The executive will also be part of the Saab team trying to close a Gripen deal with Botswana.

Mats Lundberg, a Saab Senior Marketing Executive, is a former Swedish Air Force officer who previously headed the company’s flight test and verification team for the Gripen. Lundberg will be working on trying to persuade the SAAF to adopt the Saab’s Material System 20 (MS20) for the Gripen. Saab describes the MS20 as the “the latest operational upgrade and combat enhancement” for the fighter.

While former Botswana President Ian Khama said his country would buy single seater Gripen C and double-seater D versions, so far there have been no orders. In July the Botswana government said there were insufficient funds for an acquisition and thought was being given to alternatives. Talks on the possible acquisition by Botswana of between 8 and 12 second hand JAS 39 Gripen C and D variants from Sweden began in 2016.

Lundberg said a new proposal on financing and payments aspects will be put to the Botswana government. “At this stage it´s far too early to decide on what kind of business model will be used,” said Lundberg.

South Africa has a total of 26 Gripen multirole fighters, some of which are in rotational storage. The Gripen is also operated by Sweden, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Thailand. Brazil has ordered 36 Gripens in the latest E and F versions.

Saab said MS20 allows new weapons to be integrated onto the Gripen platform. These include beyond visual range air-to-air missiles, and pods with 16 small diameter precision bombs. Overall, Saab said MS20 permits enhanced weapons performance and for the plane to more effectively perform swing roles. There are also new safety feature, such as an Automatic Ground Collision Avoid System.

Work for local firms will depend on the extent to which the SAAF will require customisation around weapons and systems for its version of MS20. Meteor, the beyond visual range missile developed by the European MBDA missile consortium, is already integrated into MS20 system. But Lundberg said the local Marlin beyond visual range missile, under development by Denel Dynamics, could be integrated into MS20.

Most of the development work for the basic MS20 system has already been done, but there will probably be local adaptions that must be tested and verified, Lundberg said.

The Gripen could be used as a test platform in Marlin’s development, said Lundberg. That could mean further work between Saab and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) on flutter and vibration analysis, he said.