SAAF Gripens still on the ground


The sharp end of the SA Air Force (SAAF) – Air Force Base (AFB) Makhado-based 2 Squadron and its Saab Gripen fighters – has been dormant for more than six months with, as yet, no date known or set for the Swedish-built jet fighters to take to the sky with South Africans in the cockpit.

Making matters worse is the Gripen simulator is part and parcel of the not renewed maintenance and support contracts that Department of Defence (DoD) Head of Communication (HOC) Siphiwe Dlamini omitted to mention in his December statement advising the temporary grounding of South Africa’s Gripen fleet.

The grounding was ascribed to a lack of funding along with maintenance and support contracts not being timeously renewed. defenceWeb, seeking an update on Gripen status, was told by Brigadier-General Mongezi Kweta, Director SAAF Corporate Services, through the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) Directorate: Corporate Communication (DCC), the “latest” user requirement specification (URS) utilised during negotiations for the Gripen contract includes the simulator.

The one-star added “negotiation has been concluded” with “the process” in “the final phase awaiting final contract placement”. He did not answer this publication’s question on when a test flight can be expected.

The Gripens at AFB Makhado, also home to 85 Combat Flying School (CFS) and its Hawk Mk 120 lead-in fighter-trainers, is regarded as SAAF’s “fighter town” and the Swedish-built jets, according to Kweta, have been maintained “even during times of not having a contract”.

Flying, in his words “flights”, will resume “after final placement of the contract” and the ordering and delivery of “certain spares” is done.

On the issue of flying currency and instructor competency, Kweta said SAAF “processes and procedures” manage these aspects of flight operations, adding the “necessary control measures are applied when seamless transition is interrupted”.

He did not respond when asked if Gripen instructors would retain competency by way of going to another country where Gripens were in service. The latest Department of Defence (DoD) annual performance plan (APP) notes an increase to R144 million from the previous figure of R66 million for training and development in the air defence programme. This increase, the APP states, is “largely due to currency training for pilots that is done overseas” without details of aircraft types or in which countries.