18 December 2013 by Guy Martin – defenceWeb
Saab has not given up on the idea of established a Gripen Fighter Weapon School and continues to offer the concept to the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), in spite of its earlier refusal.
Anne Lewis-Olsson, Saab’s Head of Communication Sub- Saharan Africa, told defenceWeb that the company has not given up on the idea and still wishes to establish such a facility, which would train fighter pilots initially from Gripen countries.
In July last year Saab announced at the Farnborough Air Show that it would establish the School in South Africa, but shortly afterwards the SANDF denied the whole affair.
Saab had planned to run the first course with at least six students in late 2013 using between four and six South African Air Force (SAAF) Gripen C/D fighters.
A 1 000 square metres building at AFB Overberg would have been dedicated to the school and would have included briefing and debriefing rooms, a lecture hall, lunchroom, locker rooms, a gym and sauna, offices and IT infrastructure. South African and Swedish Air Force instructors would have conducted the course, Saab said.
Although the SANDF has denied that it will host the School, Saab believes there is still sufficient interest from the SA Air Force to possibly one day establish the facility as South Africa is the preferred location due to favourable weather and the vast test range in the southern Cape. However, Lewis-Olsson cautioned that these things take time and that much patience is needed. For instance, Saab is still waiting for the SA Air Force to issue a Gripen support contract – the SAAF had been living on interim support contracts, but since April had no support contracts at all.
Saab has said that the Fighter Weapon School would be a fantastic opportunity for the SAAF as it would give local pilots skills and flying time and would showcase South Africa’s capabilities to the rest of the world. At present the SAAF Gripen fleet of 26 is being underutilised, with 12 placed in rotational storage.
Saab has a large presence in South Africa, mainly due to the SA Air Force’s Gripen purchase and subsequent offset investments. In fact, Saab South Africa is the largest Saab defence division in the world, after the parent company in Sweden, with around 700 people being employed in South Africa. Saab South Africa comprises Saab Grintek Defence, Saab Grintek Technolgies and Omnigo. Turnover for Saab South Africa was R1.4 billion this year. Of this, 9% is invested into research and development.
Chris Skinner, Vice President, Head of Marketing and Sales and Commercial, Saab Grintek Defence, told defenceWeb that Saab is looking to participate in many of the programmes that form part of the SANDF’s Strategic Capital Acquisition Master Plan (SCAMP). For instance Saab has answered the Request For Information (RFI) for Project Chutney, which is seeking to acquire new long range, mobile tactical, air traffic control and precision approach radars. As Saab only manufactures a couple of these types of radars, the company will seek a partner for Chutney. For Project Saucepan, which seeks to acquire maritime surveillance aircraft, Saab is offering its Saab 340 and 2000 platforms, which could be available within a year. The company has also provided border camps for the SANDF.
Saab would also like to be involved in many other SANDF projects, such as Projects Sepula and Vistula (armoured vehicles and trucks), Biro (patrol vessels) and the upgrade of the Valour class frigates.
Saab also hopes to sell its Skeldar unmanned aerial vehicle in Africa, especially for things like anti-poaching, anti-piracy and peacekeeping operations – the United Nations is for the first time operating UAVs in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Saab South Africa also has numerous other business avenues, such as naval ESM and countermeasures systems, field camps, security etc. Command and Control and security are major fields for Saab, especially as security is such a huge business in South Africa.
Skinner said that Saab Grintek Defence exports between 70 and 75% of its products. “Without exports I don’t think we’d survive,” as the SANDF is not ordering much at the moment, although there are many procurement projects underway. Skinner said the last couple of years have been tough in South Africa as there are many projects underway, yet funding has not been made available. However, he said that with the changes in the Department of Defence and state contracting company Armscor, things will improve in the future.