No money to operate, South African Air Force fighter jets have been grounded for 4 months

The new year should usher in a new atmosphere, but obviously, the South African Air Force does not think so, bercause all the front line fighter of SAAFare grounded.

SAAF Saab Gripen fighter jet has been grounded for nearly 4 months, and it is expected that it may not return until late January. The delay is unpredictable. In other words, around September 2021, there was no available fighter jets in South Africa. The reason is the lack of funds and the failure to renew the maintenance and support contracts in time. In fact, this incident is also inevitable because the South African Air Force has already suffering low budget.



The Gripen fighter JAS-39 is an advanced fighter developed by Sweden. It adopts the aerodynamic layout of triangular wings and full-moving canards, three-degree digital fly-by-wire, and 30% of the body is made of composite materials. The aircraft has a length of 14.1 meters, a wingspan of 8.4 meters, a height of 4.5 meters, an empty weight of 6.62 tons, a normal take-off weight of 8.72 tons, and a maximum take-off weight of 14 tons.

It is equipped with a General Dynamics RM12 turbofan engine with an afterburner of 80 kN. Speed ​​Mach 2, practical ceiling of 15,240 meters, the maximum range of 3,200 kilometers, combat radius is 800 kilometers, thrust-to-weight ratio of 0.97, maximum overload +9/-3g, PS-05A Doppler radar installed, and a weapon of 27 mm The Mauser BK-27 single-barreled cannon can mount medium/short-range air-to-air missiles and various guided precision weapons. Its main brand is low-cost and high-efficiency, and its operating cost is half that of ordinary European fighters, and it is easy to maintain.



In December 1999 South Africa signed a strategic weapons purchase contract with BAE Systems and Saab, valued at US$1.47 billion. In addition, it also includes the purchase of 24 “Hawk mk 120” fighter entry trainers, valued at US$620 million. The initial order for 9 two-seater D-type aircraft and 19 single-seater C-type aircraft was revised to 9 two-seater and 17 single-seater aircraft in 2005. The Gripen delivered schedule was between 2008 to 2012.

SAAF Saab JAS 39C Gripen
SAAF Saab JAS 39C Gripen

South Africa’s original Cheetah C/D fighter was retired on April 2, 2008. Its first Gripen D number SA01 rolled off the Saab factory in October 2005 and made its first flight in Sweden on November 11, and was delivered to the South African Air Force on April 30, 2008. The 26 aircraft purchased by SAAF are numbered SA+ serial numbers, with large numbers on their vertical tails. The D-type two-seater aircraft are SA01/39-2801 to SA09/39-2809, and the C-type single-seater aircraft are SA10/39-2101. To SA28/39-2119. These fighters have been incorporated into the service of the 2nd Fighter Squadron at Waterkloof Air Base in Pretoria, the administrative capital.




The JAS-39 of the South African Air Force has some special configurations. It is equipped with a 1.975 kg Cobra helmet of BAE Systems, which is a development of the Typhoon fighter’s “Striker” helmet. Gripen has a gravity refueling port, which can be refueled at any place lacking a pressure refueling system, or even from a tank when necessary. It is also equipped with the Litening III pod of Israel Rafael Company and the LinkZA data link of South Africa for ground strikes. . The South African Gripen is only equipped with short-range IRIS-T infrared air-to-air missiles, but did not buy radar-guided medium-range air-to-air missiles. The South African Air Force hopes to replace IRIS-T with A-Darter short-range air-to-air missiles made in South Africa. As a result, Daniel Power’s The missile R&D project team only completed the formal qualification review of A-Darter in August 2019, and began integration, qualification review and approval on the SAAB Gripen C/D fighter jets of the South African Air Force. As for mass production, it is far away. The South Africans also wanted to develop the R-Darter medium-range bomb, but then there was no news of the funding reduction.






Back to the beginning of the event. The South African Air Force had previously negotiated with Saab on the maintenance and support contract for the Gripen fleet through the intermediary Armscor. However, the two parties discussed various issues for too long, and the implementation of the Public Finance Management Act in South Africa “(Public Finance Management Act) under the large-scale budget cut, the middleman Armscor mistakenly changed the priority of the plan and imposed funding restrictions, resulting in failure to renew the contract with SAAB in time. Having said so much, it is simply two words: “no money”.

After the abolition of apartheid in South Africa, the new government needs to vigorously improve people’s livelihood, continuously cut military budgets, and the losses caused by corruption. It also enacted racial restrictions for air force pilots. It is hoped that 75% will be black and 25% will be white. This has led to the South African Air Force. The scale continues to shrink, facing a serious problem of the loss of fighter pilots. South Africa’s defense budget for 2021/22 is only 0.86% of GDP. The defense budget for 2020/21 is 54.2 billion rand ($3.397 billion), but only 46.2 billion rand ($2.895 billion) is given, a 14% reduction .


This is not over yet, and the South African Air Force cannot even afford to maintain the aircraft’s normal flight training costs. You must know that Gripen’s main focus is low operating costs. The operating cost per flight hour is about US$6,300 to US$8,500. In contrast, the dry cost of the hawk trainer flight is US$4,230 (excluding fuel), which can be said to be very economical. Unexpectedly, since 2010, Gripen flight funds began to be short, resulting in the reduction of pilots’ personal flying hours from 224 hours to 110 hours per year. You must know that at this time, even the planes were not even received.

On March 13, 2013, the South African Defense Minister stated that 12 JAS-39 fighter jets were grounded because they could not pay for the flight. In September 2013, the Air Force was forced to rotate and store all 26 Gripens in order to save costs. The so-called Rotational Storage is also called Rotational Preventive Maintenance (RPM). Fly once every 60 days, and then maintain it to the same level as the current aircraft, and regularly replace the aircraft in service to keep the flight time of the entire fleet average. It is important to know that at this time, the Gripen in South Africa has just been installed soon.

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