Gripen support equipment delivered

By Leon Engelbrecht
Johannesburg, 27 Sept 2007

A number of local small and medium-sized defence IT and engineering firms have begun delivering ground support equipment (GSE) for the SA Air Force's (SAAF's) new Gripen fighters, which will be delivered from March.

Initial consignments of Gripen GSE comprise customised items of varying complexity, ranging from computerised electrical test equipment, overhaul platforms and test rigs to tailored engine inlet covers, engine trolleys and cockpit access ladders.

Companies supplying these items include Cape Town's Quad Engineering, ContactServe of Olifantsfontein and Tshwane-based companies, Vacuform and Hartell.

The contract is modelled on aerospace engineering company Aerosud's earlier contract with BAE Systems, where it managed the supply of a GSE program for the SAAF's current Hawk fighter-trainer fleet.

Aerosud MD Paul Potgieter says the concept sees his company taking on responsibility for the programme, including managing and mentoring a select group of BEE SME companies which manufacture the various items.

The common purpose was to raise the quality standards of these smaller engineering firms so that they could become qualified suppliers to the aerospace industry - a sector that operates to the highest quality standards.

The contract stems from a R11 million contract signed in 2006 between Saab and Aerosud. It forms part of Saab and BAE Systems' joint Defence Industrial Participation offset programme, tied to SA's procurement of the Gripen and Hawk fighters.

The GSE items will be delivered to the SAAF within the next few weeks, and forms part of the SAAF's preparation for the delivery of the first operational Gripen two-seat trainer in March.

"This is a classic example of how government's industrial participation programme is delivering benefits up and down a supply chain, reaching suppliers of sophisticated hi-tech and simpler - but just as necessary - low-tech items and services," says Potgieter.

"At the same time, these are exactly the sort of close collaborative and cooperative ventures which will increasingly underpin the creation of aerospace clusters such as the Centurion Aerospace Village (CAV), which will define the landscape of SA's aerospace industry in future."

The CAV, opened earlier this month, is the new "home" of the aerospace industry. It is hoped that existing and future start-up aerospace suppliers will co-locate in the specialised aviation park. This will enable participating companies to share the capital infrastructure and simplify their supply chain logistics.

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