Saab has started manufacturing components for the first Gripen multirole fighter due for delivery to South Africa in mid-2006.

It has also increased the level of industrial offset with South Africa. South Africa selected the Saab/BAE Systems Gripen as part of a massive rearmament package, committing to nine twin-seat Gripens and 19 single-seaters. South Africa has until March next year an option to cancel the latter. Jerker Ahlqvist, Saab head of the South African programme, says development of changes for the South African aircraft has started, as has manufacture of detail components.

Ahlqvist says the first aircraft will be an instrumented test aircraft that will be used for Saab/South African industry trials in South Africa. First flight is due in February 2006, with the aircraft due to move to South Africa in August that year following trials in Sweden. The South African Air Force should receive the aircraft in November 2007. Production of the first single-seater is not due to begin until the second half of 2007 with hand-over scheduled for late 2009.

The South African Gripen will be based on the export version with colour displays, in-flight refuelling and NATO compatible systems.

A helmet-mounted display will also be integrated as will South African IFF interrogator modes, navigation, communications and datalink. South Africa is also known to be integrating the Kentron R-Darter short-range, infrared-guided missile with the aircraft. As part of the industrial offset programme, personnel from the SAAF and South African companies are working at Saab's Linkjoping plant.

These will form the core at a development centre that will provide an indigenous Gripen weapons, integration, upgrade and modification capability. As well as developing NATO-standard weapons pylons for the Gripen, Denel Aviation has also been manufacturing two elements of the fuselage.

Source: Flight Daily News