The president of Saab South Africa (Saab SA), Magnus Lewis-Olsson, believes that the development of the new generation JAS39E/F versions of the Gripen fighter could provide opportunities for South Africa.
Sweden and Switzerland have agreed in principle to jointly develop and purchase the new generation Gripen, with Sweden set to acquire between 40 and 60 of the new type and Switzerland buying 22 (subject to a probable referendum on the deal).
"There are opportunities for South Africa, and other countries, to participate in the development of the new generation Gripen," Lewis-Olsson told Engineering News Online on Thursday at the 2012 Africa Aerospace and Defence exhibition in Pretoria.
"South Africa has fantastic capabilities in the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research and in local companies. Of course, South Africa would have to help fund the programme. But it could fund a little bit of it and still be part of the bigger Gripen new generation family."
Lewis-Olsson, stressing he was speaking in a personal capacity, also opined that, with Sweden set to buy so few JAS39Es and Fs, the country was likely to continue to operate a number of its current JAS39C and D models alongside the new generation aircraft. The remaining Cs and Ds would be upgraded and could be fitted with some of the technologies and systems developed for the new generation versions.
This, too, could benefit South Africa, making a major mid-life upgrade of this country's Gripens – all C and D models – using new generation systems more affordable. These could include active electronically scanned array radar and new electronic countermeasures.
All South Africa's 26 Gripens have been handed over to the South African Air Force (SAAF). "South Africa's Gripens probably have the most modern systems of all Gripens in operation today," he reported.
Integration of the A-Darter missile (a joint project between South Africa and Brazil) has been completed, as has integration of the helmet-mounted display system.
"All major development activities have been completed. The complete maintenance capability has been delivered," he said. "Dip [defence industrial participation] and Nip [national industrial participation] obligations have been fulfilled. The reconnaissance pod for the SAAF has been integrated."
According to independent research by the renowned Jane's publications, the flying cost per hour of the Gripen, in 2012 dollars, is $4 700. The figure for the Lockheed Martin F-16 is $7 700, for the Boeing F-18E/F $11 000 and for the Dassault Rafale $16 500. Saab hopes to sell up to 300 Gripens, of both C/D and E/F versions, over the next ten years.