The South African Air Force (SAAF) has no support contract with Saab to maintain its fleet of Gripen fighter jets as previous support contracts have expired.
Magnus Lewis-Olsson, President of Saab South Africa, told defenceWeb yesterday at the Land Forces Africa conference in Pretoria the SAAF had been living on interim support contracts, but since April had no support contracts at all.
Lewis-Olsson said Saab was hoping to get a support contract in place within the next few months.
He was concerned the SAAF would not be able to operate the Gripen without some form of support contract – the Air Force at the moment does hands on maintenance work, but it is not a good for the aircraft to fly for extended periods without proper maintenance and support.
South Africa ordered 28 Saab Gripen C & D advanced light fighter aircraft in 1999 as part of a “strategic defence package”. The order was later trimmed to 26. The Gripen were acquired as a package with 24 BAE Systems Hawk Mk120 lead-in fighter trainers. In 2007 Treasury put the cost of the Gripen acquisition, Project Ukhozi, at R19.908 billion. By August 2011, the SAAF had spent R151 million on Gripen support.
In March Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula told Parliament 12 Gripens were in long-term storage. This because the SAAF did not have the necessary funding to fly them.
As far back as 2010 previous Defence and Military Veterans Minister Lindiwe Sisulu warned a lack of money could ground the Gripen. That year’s Department of Defence annual report also warned “combined with recent funding cuts for the medium term expenditure framework period, the air force will only be able to sustain the Hawk system”.
“Without adequate funding levels being provided, the air force will not be able to meet its mandate in terms of defence or its support of government initiatives in the medium and longer term. The unwanted reality is portions of aircraft fleets may have to be placed in long-term storage, and certain capabilities, units or bases may have to be closed down,” the report stated.