Military Aviation

South African Air Force Gripen fighter jets are grounded since September and they won’t fly again until late January 2022 at the earliest. Here’s why.

The Gripen fighter jets belonging to the South African Air Force are temporarily grounded due to a lack of funding and maintenance and support contracts not being renewed in time.

The Gripen fighter jets belonging to the South African Air Force (SAAF) are temporarily grounded due to a lack of funding and maintenance and support contracts not being renewed in time. However, it is likely that the Gripens will be flying again in the new year.

As reported by Defence Web, the Department of Defence (DoD) said the South African National Defence Force’s (SANDF’s) Air Defence capability has been negatively impacted by protracted discussions relating to maintenance contracts.

Siphiwe Dlamini, DoD Head of Communication, explained that “After a lengthy discussion between the South African Air Force (SAAF), through Armscor and Saab on the contract concerning the Gripen, proposals have been presented by both parties and are being reviewed to ensure that the matter is conclusively dealt with by the parties concerned. It is unfortunate that the discussions took longer than expected as a result, negatively impacting on the Air Defence capability.”

He added that, “the SAAF is confident that a solution will be found to resolve this matter. Due to the sensitivity around the discussion, the negotiations cannot be made public.”

“Thanks to this delay, the SAAF’s Gripen fleet has been grounded for three months and probably won’t return to the air until late January at the earliest,” pointed out Darren Olivier, Director at African Defence Review.

Olivier believes it’s a crisis caused primarily by severe budget cuts, “but seemingly compounded by a dysfunctional relationship between the SAAF and Armscor and poor contract management. This is a crisis that should never have been allowed to reach this point.”

Because of “high fixed costs” negotiations regarding the placement of new support contracts for the Hawk and Gripen were still ongoing at least as far back as August this year.

According to defenceWeb the maintenance and support contracts have not been renewed in time because of Public Finance Management Act (PFMA) requirements, Armscor implementing Preferential Procurement regulations incorrectly, and funding constraints.

It seems that half the Gripen fleet of 26 aircraft has been cannibalised for spare parts, while air crews have lost currency due to a lack of flight hours. This is compounded by a lack of PC-7 Mk II trainers available.

The funding crisis affecting the SAAF, and the SANDF as a whole, has impacted the serviceability of other aircraft too. For instance only a dozen Oryx are available out of a fleet of roughly 40. Over the last year only around a third of the Hawk fleet has been operational. Much of the eight-strong C-130BZ Hercules fleet is unserviceable, although two aircraft are airworthy and flying after a major service, and two more are undergoing scheduled maintenance.

Moreover, there is little ammunition available for the SAAF’s combat aircraft because of the lack of funding.

For nearly a decade, the SAAF has been unable to fund the airworthiness of the entire Hawk and Gripen fleets, and half the Gripen fleet has since been in ‘rotational storage’. According to the 2021 DoD Annual Performance Plan, for 2021/22, a total of R5.969 billion is allocated to the Air Defence programme (essentially the SAAF in its entirety), against a requirement of R7.8 billion. The shortfall of R1 840 622 000 will adversely impact on the preparation and provision of combat-ready air defence capabilities, maintenance backlog, maintenance of capabilities and aviation safety within the programme.

As we have reported in 2017, SAAF put at least 12 of the Gripens into long-term storage in 2013 because of severe budget cuts.

At the time the 2 Squadron (2 Sqn) at Waterkloof air base that operated most of the aircraft used them to search for rhinoceros poachers near the Zimbabwe border. Lt Col Josias Mashaba, then commanding officer of the 2 Squadron, explained that the Gripens used their Rafael Litening III targeting pod to scan the area at night and direct wildlife rangers to the poachers’ camps.

Photo credit: Alan Wilson from Stilton, Peterborough, Cambs, UK and Zerbet via Wikipedia

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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