South Africa hosts Gripen User Group


The South African Air Force (SAAF) is playing host to the Gripen User Group taking place at AFB Makhado this month.

The Gripen User Group (GuG) is an inter-governmental initiative between air forces around the world that currently fly the Gripen fighter jet. Representatives of countries that fly the Gripen fighter hold a bi-annual conference in one of the member countries to share their experiences of operational use of the supersonic fighter. These talks revolve around operational, maintenance, logistics, engineering and safety matters.

Attendees at this year’s week-long event include South Africa as host, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Sweden and Thailand. The SAAF has previously hosted the GuG before, in December 2011, but have on occasion had to decline attending events hosted overseas due to, presumably, financial reasons.

Czech Gripen pilot Maj. Petr Michenka attended a previous conference held in the Czech Republic and summed up the event. “Individual users accumulate different experiences in operating these aircraft, for example, due to different climatic conditions. We share different experiences and information during the conference and found that some of them are very similar. After the evaluation, we can be better prepared for the challenges ahead.”

The South African Air Force acquired nine two seat Gripen Ds and 17 single seat Gripen Cs, which were delivered between 2008 and 2012. The final four single-seat aircraft were retained in Sweden to take part in the multinational Gripen exercise Lion Effort in March and April 2012, alongside 30 Gripens from other GuG nations.

Lion Effort is a tactical exercise intended to enhance interoperability between Gripen user countries. The first exercise was held in 2009 in Hungary, while the second was held in Sweden and saw the South African Air Force participate for the first time. It also marked the first time the SAAF has deployed overseas in the last 60 years since its involvement in the Korean War (1950-1953).

The South African Air Force would like to host Lion Effort in 2018, funding permitting, and will send observers to the next exercise in the Czech Republic in 2015.