Saab hands SAAF first Gripen

Staff Writer
By Staff Writer, ITWeb
Johannesburg, 09 May 2008

The SA Air Force (SAAF) has received the first of 26 advanced light fighter aircraft, ordered at a cost of R20 billion, as part of the controversial 1999 arms deal.

The aircraft, effectively a flying computer, will be a common sight over SA's cities, while on anti-terror duties during the 2010 Soccer World Cup.

"Delivery of the first Gripen aircraft is an important milestone in what has been a challenging and exciting programme," says Saab president and CEO Ake Svensson.

"SA was our first export customer for Gripen," adds Svensson. "Its recognition of Gripen's capabilities and faith in Saab has inspired other new Gripen customers, including the Czech Republic, Hungary, the UK's Empire Test Pilot School and more recently, Thailand. We are also in discussion with several other countries, all of which are looking closely at the performance of the aircraft and Saab in SA."

Mike O'Callaghan, BAE Systems SA's new CEO, says that, besides modernising the SAAF, the Gripen and Hawk training fighter procurement "has given rise to a game-changing industrial participation (offset) programme", in terms of which Saab and BAE Systems had a combined obligation to deliver $8.7 billion in offsets and investment in the South African economy.

"This has been the catalyst for the rejuvenation of the country's aerospace and defence industry, placing it squarely in the global arena," O'Callaghan says.

His predecessor, Jonathan Walton, in January, said the two companies had already discharged 60% of that obligation, which included investment in the local ICT industry.

Delivery of the first Gripen follows an extensive two-year flight test programme in SA to integrate local avionics, defence and combat systems. Initial work was conducted in Sweden, before migrating to a dedicated Gripen Flight Test Centre established at the SAAF's Test Flight Development Centre, near Bredasdorp, in the Southern Cape.

Aircraft (SA0) first flew in November 2005, at Link"oping, Sweden. It was transferred to SA in July 2006 and engaged in an SA-specific flight test programme, which was completed in January 2008. South African aircraft deliveries will continue progressively from now until 2012.

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