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South Africa takes delivery of fifth Gripen

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Gripen NG Demonstrator with Iris-T, Meteor and GBU10. Gripens International photo

NEW DELHI (BNS): South Africa has taken delivery of its fifth Gripen multi-role fighter as part of the SA Air Force’s modernisation and transformation programme.

The Indian Air Force, looking to buy new fighter jets as part of its modernisation drive, would take note of developments in South Africa where 26 Swedish Gripens have been sold.

Deliveries of 17 single-seat fighters will commence when the dual-seat aircraft have all been taken into SA Air Force service with the final aircraft on schedule to be delivered by 2012.

Gripen is one of the contenders for IAF's contract for 126 multi-role combat aircraft. The IAF at the moment is processing the bid submitted by Gripen and five others including some of the top names in the fighter jet industry like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, MiG, Rafale and Eurofighter. The Indian contract is one of the toughest in the world as IAF has elaborated extensive requirements.

But IAF would be looking around the globe to see what others are buying. Gripen stole the march over its rivals when it bagged the contract for supplying 26 jets to South Africa. Nine of these aircraft would be dual seat operational type conversion variant. The company has already delivered five aircraft to South Africa.

The first deliveries are of the dual seat variant the last one in the category would be supplied by 2012. The fact that Saab, the manufacturers of Gripen, has been able to honour the delivery deadlines for the contract finalised in 1999 would be taken into account.

South Africa already has two squadrons of Gripen station at air force base Makhado in northern Limpopo province. Its pilots were undergoing instructor training on Gripen at Makhado assisted by Saab instructors.

The company is also providing support in the form of mission simulators, computer based training system and extensive logistics support package consisting ground equipment, spare parts and enabling products.

After South Africa, Saab is also a keen contender for the Brazilian contract. The development is significant as South Africa and Brazil are India's new close partners. The three emerging economies have joined hands on various political, financial and military issues. They recently held a joint military exercises apart from taking forward the economic ties.

IAF is likely to complete scrutinising of bids for fighter jets in the next six months. The trials of the new planes are expected to start at the end of next year, the officials have indicated.

Gripen's performance in other air forces would weigh heavily on the minds of IAF's planners. A possible feedback could be taken from South Africa over the capabilities of the system in operational environment. India has its own requirements, however, based on the threat perception existing in the region.

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