SAAF commissions Gripen

By Leon Engelbrecht, ITWeb senior writer
Johannesburg, 18 Sept 2008

The SA Air Force has commissioned its small fleet of Gripen advanced fighter aircraft.

Air Force chief Lieutenant General Carlo Gagiano, defence force head General Godfrey Ngwenya, and defence minister Mosiuoa Lekota yesterday signed the paperwork accepting the first four aircraft into SAAF service.

Twenty-six of the advanced Swedish fighters will be delivered to the SAAF in coming years, with 25 assigned to 2 Squadron at AFB Makhado, in Limpopo, and the last assigned to research and development at the SAAF Test Flight & Development Centre.

All nine twin-seater and 17 single-seater aircraft will be delivered by 2012.

Speaking at the event on the opening day of the Africa Aerospace and Defence show, in Cape Town, Lekota said the ceremony was "a major milestone in the continuing process of re-equipping and revitalising the SA National Defence Force - a process that started with the conceptualisation of a new defence policy in the White Paper on Defence of 1996 and Defence Review of 1998.

"From the inception of our democratic South Africa it was envisaged that the Defence Force should be a modern, technologically advanced force. The Gripen, the first truly modern front-line fighter aircraft in SA since the acquisition of Mirage fighters in the mid-1970s, is a potent symbol of that aspiration."

Lekota said "the Gripen would be the icon of SA's air capability for several decades to come.

"The recruitment, training and retention of skilled personnel - pilots, technicians, fighter controllers and a host of others - is critical if that latent capability is to be realised," he added.

For the moment, the fighters are only armed with an integral 27mm Mauser cannon. The short-range IRIS-T air-to-air missile is on order from Diehl BGT and more weapons are under development for the plane.

The cadre of qualified pilots is still small, but the first class of six instructors are now under training at Makhado.

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