Publication: defenceWeb Issued: Date: 2013-07-17 Reporter: Guy Martin

SAAF has no Gripen support contract




Date 2013-07-17
Reporter Guy Martin
Web link


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.



#1 Flash28 2013-07-17 12:19

Sigh, I really hope Terry, Richard and Paul manages to get our money back from BAE and SAAB for the Gripens and Hawks.Simple PV calculation based on 2007 ZAR/USD rate average = 7.04 to current Rand price with interest fluctuations till 2013... the price is closer to +-25-30 billion ZAR... We got royally screwed. I'm sure we could get some second hand Mirage-2000's from the French
#2 Dirk 2013-07-17 17:13

Forget about ever getting money back - after ten or more years. The Defence Force is only the user of the items given to them by Parliament. The SANDF got a good acquisition system, and state what it want, but it is a political decision on what it get. So get the backhanders from the politburo, give the SANDF the money to operate what they got, That is maintenance support as well as the operational training and operational budget.

I do not say the SANDF does not have corrupt members, but the whole Defence Package was basically a Political Payback to the partners during the time of the struggle.
#3 Helmoed Heitman 2013-07-17 17:17

Why would anyone want a second-hand Mirage for which there will never be any home country upgrade, modernisation, etc. The Gripen was the optimal
choice if we could not afford a medium (twin-engine) fighter. Much cheaper to fly than an F-16 and (I am not entirely certain here, but fairly so) a Mirage 2000, and with a type life of thirty years ahead of it. And we paid a lot less per aircraft than other countries paid for Mirage 2000s or F16s in the same time frame.
#4 LeonvW 2013-07-17 17:59

I agree 100% with Helmoed. 2nd Hand Mirage 2000's would never have been a comparable option. The SAAF must get proper funding to operate (AND maintain/support)the Gripens effectively. This also includes training sufficient fighter pilots in future. If there is no option of releasing the stored ones from long-term-storage in the next few years, then perhaps those aircraft should be sold as 2nd hand - leaving us with a very small yet agile and well-maintained fighter fleet.
#5 Bateleur 2013-07-17 19:14

It's obvious that the SAAF has a fantastic fighter in the Gripen.

I have a feeling that the upcoming war against the Rebels in the DRC will serve as a good advertisement that the SANDF is effective despite the funding issues and will hopefully restore its position of importance and the required force levels.

The stored Gripens need to be put back into service ASAP. One squadron isn't good enough to secure the airspace over SA, never mind Central Africa.
#6 Jacques de Vries 2013-07-17 19:15

@ Helmoed Heitman

Just for interest sakes, what would new Mirage 2000's have cost if we had purchased them instead of the Gripen, and were they contemplated? I ask this as a (unjust "what if") question in terms of the continuity which the aviation industry in South Africa could have enjoyed in terms of staying with relatively familiar French avionics and engineering systems the likes of the other Mirage marks already in long service with the SAAF.

Be that as it may, we now have these Gripen airframes, and they are not going to go away, unless as LeonW says we sell them on and maintain a small fleet. Even if we do that the ranks of pilots need to be filled, as well as technicians who need to be incentivized to stay with the Force to keep the fleet going. These machines gather dust in hangars and are as good as museum exhibits if the system does not support them... It might be so that the Gripen was an optimal choice among a specific line up, but it seems that in light of their current situation , even this optimal situation does not seem the best.
#7 John 2 2013-07-17 21:49

The only thing SAAF needs is sufficient funds to fully operate the 24 Gripens (it’s all about the money SAAF don’t have), the what if 10 years later is just uncalled for. I have no problem that my tax money (alhoewel baie min) was spend on the purchase of the 24 Gripens. Hopefully with the approval of Defence Review the Defence Budget will increase.

#8 John 2 2013-07-17 22:04

Sorry 26 Gripens.Quoting John 2:

#9 Mburumba Appolus 2013-07-18 17:48

Can an esteemed reader kindly research how countries with smaller or equal GDP/defence budgets as South Africa such as Jordan,Morocco, Chile, Denmark, Portugal, etc are able to operate squadrons of F-16, etc with relative ease.
#10 Helmoed Heitman 2013-07-18 17:54


There were three aircraft offered at the time, with the final bid prices as below:

- Gripen $ 2 234 million
- Mirage 2000 $ 2 314 million
- AT2000 $ 2 157 million

The latter was a DASA project that had not progressed beyond the concept design. A lot of people in the SAAF projects world preferred it, but the risk was considered to be too high. As it stands, no one has ordered any and it has never gone beyond paper, so that decision was correct.

The problem with the Mirage 2000 was that it was an old aircraft (entered FAF service in 1982) and was at that stage scheduled to be phased out by the FAF in 2012, precisely the year in which we originally planned to achieve IOC on our new fighter. That would have meant being the last client and no more upgrades or new weapons integration by the OEM and home air force. Add the fact that it was much more maintenance intensive and that its few performance advantages were offset by disadvantages, and it all became a no-brainer.

Personally I would have preferred Rafale - range, payload, twin engines for safety over long missions and, as you say, the connection with Dassault and the French industry. But that would have cost just about twice as much to buy and, being a twin, would have cost a lot more to run - fuel, hot gas stream engine parts, etc; or perhaps F/A-18!

Some people claim there was an F-16 offer on the table and there was - the F-16As that had been sold to Pakistan, paid for but never delivered (no refund either) and been standing in a hanger for twenty years. Just getting them operational after that would have been costly, the Pakistanis would have been seriously annoyed, the aircraft was even older in technology than the Mirage 2000 (service entry in 1978) and all the usual American strings attached.
Once twins had been ruled out, the only viable choice was the Gripen, and as first export customer we did get some work out of it - even if Denel blew that later. And it has turned out better than a lot of SAAF people expected - combat radius a bit better than F1AZ, much better than the Cheetah C; simple to support (during WC 2010, pairs of Gripens were accompanied by mechanics in a single Cessna Caravan!), easy to work on and, for a fighter, cheap to fly (various sources quote per hour costs between one third and one half those of an F-16.

The long-term dream - beyond funding to fly the ones we have, would be to add a second squadron (perhaps smaller, 12-16) of the future Gripen E and F (two-seat): More powerful engine; bigger wing with two extra weapons stations; and a full cubic meter for fuel in the fuselage dead on the CG. That would give us E/F Gripens for precision strike/interdiction and C/D for air defence, escort, et al.7cDca

#11 Simon Roche 2013-07-18 21:54

Thank-you Helmud Heitman for your second contribution above, it is highly educational.

Also Appolus #9, good question, but I suspect that the answer is almost open-ended; we could talk forever about national budgetary priorities, PER CAPITA(N.B.!) G.D.P., and so on.
#12 Helmoed Heitman 2013-07-19 15:04

Mburumba Appolus: Different reasons for different countries: Chile, Denmark and Portugal have small populations that are more productive than we, with per capita GDPs of $ 15 700, $55 740 and $ 19 534 respectively compared to our $ 8 400 or so; and so can afford to spend more on defence. In addition Denmark has a very small army, Portugal still relies on reserves left over from when they had conscription (that will change) and Chile has conscription which is much cheaper than regular soldiers. Jordan and Morocco are poorer than SA, but the governments place more focus on true state functions rather than the welfare state approach in South Africa, freeing up funds for defence, and also receive some US funding.

#13 Etienne Prinsloo 2013-07-20 19:43

@ Helmoed Heitman

I don't think the platform choice was ever the issue in terms of competence and affordability. I agree on the Rafaele which is an excellent aircraft whose overall competence unfortunately has not translated into large volume sales. The problem however stems from the initial purchase shrouded in a cloud of murky corruption and the pathetic management of the aircraft's support structure since then. A comprehensive, all inclusive infrastructure ranging from ongoing maintenance, rapid spare parts procurement, excellent ongoing technical relations with the manufacturer to pilot training as well as maintenance of competency is a sine qua non for fighter aircraft. This is just to mention the very basic logistics. All the aforementioned is sadly lacking; whether this is due to a lack of insight, the political will or racially motivated thinking I do not know. Clearly the intricacies of fighter platform maintenance was cleverly circumvented at the time of purchase and we are now stuck with a fleet of Grippens that are not being properly maintained and not flown with a rapidly decaying skillset in terms of maintenance and operation. Is there a workable solution in the short to medium term against the current reasoning of the political/ defence establishment? I honestly do not think so. Sadly prior to purchase, these problems were alluded to but ignored by the political etablishment. Once again, the taxpayer is left to pick up the pieces.
#14 Richard Young 2013-07-21 09:54

Some people in the SAAF projects world would have preferred the DASA AT2000 because of the discounts Mickey Worfel were offering on their gorgeous Mercedes-Benzs.

Others preferred the BAE/Saab Gripen because of the GBP105 million in covert commissions and GBP24 million in overt commissions that they were offering on the Gripen JAS39 and Hawk 100.

It's mainly about demand and supply.
#15 Richard Young 2013-07-21 09:58

I will do my best to convince Judge Seriti to send back any equipment acquired unlawfully and either get a full refund or at least the 5% penalty as remedy in case of bribes.

In the patrol corvette case the penalty is 10% as I think it is in the submarine case.

There may be a question of commission.
#16 Richard Young 2013-07-21 10:03

Why did the SAAF need to start acquiring 28 ALFAs in 1997 when it had just taken 38 Cheetah Cs into service in the same year, with another 16 spare aircraft and a mountain of spare parts?

Many (or all) of those Cheetah Cs are now in the service of the Ecuadorian Air Force.

#17 Richard Young 2013-07-21 11:32

Were the 26 Gripen JAS39s supplied with any weapons in the 1999 SDP acquisition?

If so, which?

If not, why not?

Haal uit en wys.

With acknowledgement to Guy Martin and defenceWeb.

Flocks of headless, featherless chickens coming home to root.

Is anything more need to be said?

Except one thing, what will Thabo and Alec have to say about this on the stand?

Even about rationale and utilisation?

I must save some wonga to buy an airticket on Kalula to watch that episode of the Lion, Gorilla and Gadfly Show in Tswane.

Will they televise the show?

Surely a cure all for insomnia.