Swedish aerospace and defence group Saab has proposed to the South African Air Force (SAAF) than it adopt the latest incremental update developed for the JAS39C and JAS39D Gripen fighter. The update is designated MS 20.
"The Gripen was developed with the concept of continuous upgrades – small upgrades every second or third year," explained Saab senior marketing executive: Middle East and Africa Mats Lundberg to Engineering News Online at the Africa Aerospace and Defence 2018 exhibition. "This was a requirement of the Swedish Air Force. They want to be ahead of the threats and have the latest technology. We believe we can do this best through continuous small upgrades."
The MS 20 upgrade had already been implemented by the Swedish, Czech and Hungarian Air Forces. "We are proposing that the other operators of the Gripen [South Africa and Thailand] also adopt the same standard," he stated. "It makes it easier for us to support the Gripen if all are to the same standard -- we are only a relatively small company!"
The SAAF's Gripens were currently to "quite good standard", he reported. The aircraft had been operated in South Africa for ten years and had undergone a number of upgrades already. But MS 20, which was a software package, would enable the aircraft to integrate new systems and capabilities.
For example, it would allow the aircraft to operate beyond visual range air-to-air missiles (BVRAAMs) – and Denel Dynamics was developing the Merlin BVRAAM. MS 20 would also increase the performance of the Gripen's radar and would allow the fitting of an automated Ground Collision Avoidance System. The Swedish Air Force was using MS 20 to improve the reconnaissance performance of its Gripens.
"A customer does not need to adopt the full range of capabilities offered under MS 20, only those that they need," assured Lundberg. "MS 20 also addresses obsolescence issues and forms part of obsolescence management, when it comes to software. It streamlines things."
The MS 20 package could be customised to meet the specific needs of each operator. In the case of South Africa, Saab would do a development study in conjunction with the SAAF and South African industry. Then a SAAF-customised MS 20 would be developed in South Africa and integrated on to the aircraft.
"It would then be verified using the test capability already established in South Africa -- the Gripen Fighter Test Centre at [the Denel test range at] Overberg," he pointed out. "It would be a two-three year programme, done in South Africa, involving South Africans. It would not be a case of just 'dropping in' a system developed in Sweden."
"We understand that funding is short in South Africa, and that the Gripen is probably not a priority right now, but we are seeking a good financial model, in collaboration with the Swedish government and the Swedish defence procurement agency," he affirmed. "We recognise that this will take time. But getting involved in MS 20 will benefit South Africa, including local industry. It will also assist with weapons system development in South Africa -- with MS 20, it would be possible to test new local weapons with the Gripen."