The South African Air Force says it will first seek to equip its new Saab JAS39 Gripen advanced lightweight fighter aircraft with a self-defence and precision-guided bomb capability before pursuing other weapons options.
The SAAF ordered the Diehl BGT Defence IRIS-T short range air-to-air missile (SRAAM) that is said to cost 400 000 euro each as an interim self-defence and dogfight missile in May. The weapon was on display at the Africa Aerospace and Defence show in Cape Town in September.
The missile will later be replaced by the Denel A Darter currently under development as part of Project Assegai.
Air Force chief Lt Gen Carlo Gagiano says the next priority is precision guided bombs then a beyond visual range air-to-air missile (BVRAAM).
“Obviously we need precision guided bombs; and that we will be working on. In the meantime we are clearing our pre-fragmentation bombs and normal dumb bombs or iron bombs.”
Air-to-ground missiles such as the MBDA/Saab Bofors Dynamics KEPD 350 Taurus are “not on the horizon”, however. Asked about the Denel Umbani precision bomb kit, Gagino said its use on the Gripen “depends on integration issues and the complexity of that.”
Integration and complexity will also inform the choice of BVRAAM. “With modern flight controls it is extremely difficult to integrate a missile onto aircraft,” says Gagiano.
“[It is] very expensive and very complex. So my view is that for any weapon on Gripen, the future will only allow us something that has already been integrated on the aircraft, something like [the MBDA] Meteor or some of those, just because of the complexity and the cost of integration.”
Gagiano last week announced that the first six SAAF pilots have “gone solo” on the Gripen. “The aircraft is easy to fly, very easy to fly. [The complexity lies in] getting to grip with the systems, to utilise the datalinks … the system to full capacity. Flying the aircraft is a piece of old takkie, Gagiano said.
The CAF also added he was in favour of keeping the aircraft`s name. “I`m not one for calling aircraft after animals. They`ll stay the Gripen, the hawk, the A109. The thing is we live in a global world now, so many times when I have foreign visitors, and we talk about [the Denel M1] Oryx [medium helicopter], I have to explain I mean the Super Puma. I never used to speak about Impala, I always referred to the Aermacchi 326.
“In the old days when we were isolated we could [call aircraft parochial names] but on a daily basis now we have foreign visitors and travel overseas.” Gripen is Swedish for Griffin, a mythological creature with the body of a lion and the head and often wings of an eagle. The SAAF project name for the acquisition is Ukhozi, or eagle and a golden eagle is central to the air service`s heraldry.