South Africa JAS39 18 FAWK 22Sep18 Raymond van Dijkhuizen 640SAAF Gripens grounded!

Due to a lack of funding and maintenance and support contracts not being renewed in time, the South African Air Force's (SAAF) Saab JAS39 Gripen fleet is temporarily grounded, with no aircraft serviceable.

In a statement, 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. The DoD Head of Communications, Siphiwe Dlamini, stated that "“After a lengthy discussion between the 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.”

The Gripen fleet has now been grounded for three months and will not return to the air until late January 2022 at the earliest. As far back as August 2021, negotiations regarding the placement of new support contracts for the BAE Hawk and Gripen were still ongoing due to “high fixed costs”. It is understood that 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.

All Gripen air crew have lost currency due to a lack of flight hours. This has been compounded by a lack of PC-7 Mk II trainers available.

Unfortunately, the funding crisis affects the SAAF, and the SANDF as a whole, as the serviceability of other aircraft decline. There are only around a dozen Oryx helicopters available out of a fleet of roughly fourty. In 2021, only 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.

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’, those aircraft in storage are believed to have been cannibalised for spare parts. The Air Combat Capability, which includes Hawk and Gripen operations, has seen its allocation shrinking in most years. In August 2021, the DoD told Parliament that constrained funding was affecting the ability of the SAAF to provide enough serviceable aircraft, which is negatively affecting flying hours. SAAF bases and aircraft have been described by a confidential source familiar with the situation as 'filthy' and in 'a state of disrepair'.

Early April this year, a JAS39 Gripen was severely damaged at Makhado Air Force Base whilst performing an engine test run. For more information on this freek accident, read the Scramble Magazine news item of 19 June.

Photo by Raymond van Dijkhuizen (Scramble Archive)

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