The South African Air Force (SAAF) plans to host the multinational Gripen user exercise Lion Effort in 2018, and will send observers to the next exercise in the Czech Republic in three years’ time.
Brigadier General Marthie Visser, Director Corporate Staff Services, SAAF Headquarters, told defenceWeb that, after discussion with some of the generals involved in planning, the SAAF will host Lion Effort in 2018, funding permitting.
However, Visser cautioned that, “It [is] still a bit premature to confirm exact involvement, due to several factors that can influence the situation between now and 2015/2018.”
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 SAAF’s last four of 26 Gripen fighter jets were held back in Sweden especially for the exercise. These four single-seat C models will be delivered in August.
This year’s event took place between March 27 and April 4 and focused on combined air operations and featured around 30 Gripens from Sweden, Hungary and the Czech Republic, which were based at F17 wing in Ronneby, as well as Czech L-159s and Swedish airborne early warning aircraft and tankers.
The South African contingent consisted of 29 members from 2 Squadron and eleven support staff, who arrived in Sweden on March 25. As the SAAF’s last four Gripens were held back in Sweden for the exercise, they were the first foreign element to arrive at Ronneby. Familiarisation flights started on March 28, although these did include visual identification (VID) exercises, 1 vs 1 and 2 vs 2 air-to-air engagements, and close air support (CAS) missions. The main combat portion of the exercise took place between April 1 and 4, in an operational area 70 by 200 nautical miles in size and largely over the Baltic Sea. Two waves of Gripens launched every day, with Blue forces operating from the southwest against Red forces in the northeast. One of the sides would defend an area whilst the other would try and attack, before the sides switched roles and repeated the exercise.
The eight South African fighter pilots performed very well in simulated combat, with only one SAAF Gripen being downed. They excelled in close range combat, but according to SAAF officials, did not fare quite as well regarding long-range engagements due to a lack of Beyond Visual Range (BVR) missiles, but this requirement will be met in future years with the adoption of the A-Darter. According to SAAF Colonel J C J Butler, Senior Staff Officer Combat Operations, the South African contingent’s performance was on a par with that of the other participants and in some cases even better. The Czechs were particularly impressed with the SAAF pilots’ low level flying.
The South African Air Force said the exercise provided the fighter line with much needed exposure, test the operational deployment ability of the Gripen and training of air and ground crews in multinational operations. It added that by participating in this exercise the SAAF and South African National Defence Force was exposed to Composite Air Operations (CAMAO) training, Large Force Employment and Offensive and Defensive Air Support, which is of benefit to the SAAF and the SANDF for future operations in Africa.
“It’s a magnificent training opportunity for us,” said Colonel Pierre Venter, SAAF contingent commander, “and it is unique in the sense of its format and our ability to be here.”
“We’ve learnt quite a lot about what the capabilities of the Gripen are,” said SAAF Chief Director Force Preparation Major-General Tsoku Khumalo. “We’re going to gain a lot out of the Gripens as we operate them…It’s our job to protect our sovereignty. We’ve got the capability, we’ve got the equipment, we’ve got the people.”
In total, SAAF Gripens flew approximately 40 hours during Lion Effort 2012, which cost South Africa R2.5 million.