RSA Gripen Advanced Light Fighter Aircraft (ALFA)
The Gripen is a 4th generation multi-role fighter aircraft. South Africa’s acquisition of the Gripen fighter is far more than a plan just to buy new aircraft. Instead, the programme has become a carefully crafted vehicle to bring new skills, new capabilities and new opportunities across South Africa. From the very beginning South Africa’s Gripens have been shaped by very clear national requirements. They were not bought ‘off the shelf’ or in a configuration dictated by the manufacturer.
Aerodynamically the Gripen utilises an inherently unstable design, coupled with fly-by-wire control, a canard-delta wing layout and a good power to weight ratio to provide a very agile aircraft capable of sustaining 9 “g”. Its fully integrated, digital avionics design allows for seamless integration of systems and data fusion, providing the aircrew with a superior awareness level and extremely benign flying characteristics. Aircrew awareness is further enhanced by the data link capability, linking air platforms and/or air platforms and ground stations. Very good survivability is ensured by a combination of small size, inherent stealth design characteristics, high agility and a state of the art active and passive electronic warfare system. The combination of the above factors ensures very high operational effectivity.
The Gripen system includes a state of the art, fully encompassing training system, centered on a Computer Based Training System (CBTS) and two Squadron Level Mission Trainers. Flying training is further enhanced by the availability of the dual seat aircraft. The systems are utilised by air and ground crews and are designed to cater for all levels of training, from initial conversion training to advanced operational/technical training.
Based on the Swedish doctrine of deployed operations from road bases, the Gripen is ideally suited to the African environment. Its take-off and landing distances are very modest and together with the Auxiliary Power Unit (APU), it supports short duration deployed operations, with very little ground-support equipment, from austere locations. The on-board Built-in Test Equipment reduces fault-finding time and, together with simple swapping of Line Replaceable Units (LRUs), the turn-around time is significantly reduced and the process simplified. The environmental control system (ECS) has also been adapted to cope with the cooling demands of the African scenario. The communications and identification systems have been designed according to the SANDF Combat Net Interoperability Standards. Therefore, the aircraft avionics can interact with the SANDF Command and Control systems through the data link system, supporting the netcentric warfare concept. Regarding armament, the full range of locally produced missiles and bombs will be cleared for use on Gripen.
South African input into the evolution of the Gripen as an ever more sophisticated platform has been considerable. Nearly every aspect of aircraft functionality has been tailored to meet a long list of South African Air Force (SAAF) requirements. This includes the radar, weapons, electronic warfare gear, navigation fit, communications systems, datalink, mission planning computers, even the ejection seats. South Africa has had access and input to the Gripen at every level. As a result, all Gripens – not just the aircraft for the SAAF – have the potential to adopt and integrate improved systems, designed in South Africa. South Africa itself is leading the field in adopting sophisticated mission systems such as the helmet-mounted display, for which the SAAF is the first Gripen customer.
The Gripen C (single seat) and D (dual seat) fighter aircraft replace the Cheetah C and D aircraft as the SAAF's fighter capability. They are based at AFB Makhado in the facilities currently utilised by 2 Squadron. The unit will retain its number, ie 2 Squadron. The first Gripen, the flight test instrumented aircraft, arrived in South Africa on 17 July 2006. This aircraft was utilised to conduct a Development Test and Evaluation (DT&E) phase under the auspices of Saab. This phase was conducted at the Test Flight and Development Centre (TFDC) at AFB Overberg, also utilising the Denel Overberg Test Range (OTR). This aircraft was handed over to the SAAF during the 1st quarter of 2008. Training of ground crew will commence in 2007.
Deliveries of aircraft and training and logistic systems commenced during 2008, with flying training planned to commence in the 4th quarter of 2008. The first five South African Gripen aircraft were accepted by the customer to plan. Deliveries of aircraft were completed by the end of 2011, with full system handover to the SAAF at the beginning of 2012. The Gripen system is designed for a service life of at least thirty years.
Under Saab’s commitment to the Defence Industrial Participation (DIP) program through the Gripen contract, $808 million was to flow into the South African economy by 2012. That economic co-operation was running ahead of schedule with some $430 million invested in South Africaby 2005. This takes the form of both direct orders from local industry and the far-sighted skills and technology transfer programme (STTP) that is building up a wide base of new capabilities across a number of South African industries, not just defence and aerospace.
Saab transferred manufacturing of the Gripen “Main Landing Gear Unit” fuselage section to South Africa’s Denel, which is now an important supplier to Saab Aerostructures. The Gripens delivered to NATO air forces were flying with essential South African supplied components. Saab Avitronics won an important order for helicopter electronic warfare equipment from Switzerland which incorporated key technology from South African-based Avitronics, now merged into the greater Saab Avitronics business. That gave a South African company which previously had limited market reach, access to lucrative new export markets while expanding Saab’s product range, enabling it to win more orders. South Africa has become Saab’s second home market, all because of Gripen and the DIP.
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