Saab seeks backing to build South African Gripen school

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Saab wants to move ahead with its plans to establish a Gripen Fighter Weapons School in South Africa, and is looking for a commitment from the nation and other potential users by mid-2013 to formally launch the initiative.

Outlined ahead of July's Farnborough air show in the UK, the proposed school could conduct its first course in early 2014, says Magnus Lewis-Olsson, president, Saab South Africa.

A new, Saab-funded training centre to be built at the South African air force's Overberg air base would host at least six experienced Gripen pilots on the first two-month course, which would specialise in advanced air-to-ground tactics, and involve aerial and ground-based threats.

Each pilot would make about 20 flights, with the activity to potentially include live weapons releases and supersonic and low-level flight. Ground technicians and fighter controllers could also be involved.

 

Saab

To deliver the course, Saab is seeking to lease between four and six of South Africa's 26-strong Gripen C/D fleet, and use instructors from the South African and Swedish air forces. "We have already written the first syllabus with experienced pilots," Lewis-Olsson says. South African land forces and naval assets are also expected to participate, and local industry would be involved where possible in delivering the training.

Lewis-Olsson says the South African and Swedish air forces have expressed firm interest in the concept, and that initial discussions have also taken place with other Gripen operators - the Czech Republic, Hungary and Thailand. However, the receipt of formal approvals from the South African government must be secured, potentially from late this year, if the scheme is to take off.

"We will start small, and hopefully build it up bigger," Lewis-Olsson told IQPC's International Fighter conference in London in early November. Saab is "100% committed", he adds.

Activities at the school could in the future be expanded to add other fast jet types and helicopters, or specialized assets such as tankers and airborne early warning aircraft, he says. Environmental training detachments could also potentially occur in Sweden and Thailand, to give pilots operating experience under cold and humid conditions, respectively.