South Africa's fleet of Saab Gripen fighters will be equipped with Thales Optronics-produced reconnaissance pods, with first deliveries of the equipment to take place from the middle of next year.

UK company Thales Optronics beat competition from Rafael's Reccelite and a system already in use with the Swedish air force's Gripens - believed to be from Danish supplier Terma - to win the South African Air Force deal. It will provide its digital joint reconnaissance pod (DJRP) system under a contract received in June.

The selection represents a follow-on success for Thales, with the company having previously acquired UK supplier W Vinten, which provided its Vinten 18 wet film reconnaissance systems for the SAAF's now-retired Denel Cheetah fighters.

Thales Optronics' sales and marketing director Geraint Lloyd describes the DJRP as "a bespoke reconnaissance sensor with broad-area swath coverage", and confirms that the company was selected via prime contractor Saab.

Gripen SAAF - Per Kustvik Gripen International 
© Per Kustvik/Gripen International
South Africa's Gripen fleet will include 17 single-seat examples

Its deal covers an undisclosed number of pods and related ground exploitation equipment, and also has the potential for future upgrades such as the addition of a real-time data transfer function, he says.

The DJRP sensors will be manufactured at Thales Optronics' Glasgow facilities in the UK, and there are no offsets linked to the sale.

Weighing around 250kg (550lb), the DJRP has already been integrated with the UK Royal Air Force's BAE Systems Harrier GR7/9 and Panavia Tornado GR4 strike aircraft, and with BAE's Hawk advanced jet trainer.

With the SAAF's inventory including 24 Hawk 120s, Lloyd says the reconnaissance pod's "multi-platform capability" was a significant factor in its selection for the service.

Carriage trials with the DJRP will be conducted by Saab in Sweden, but Lloyd says "the rest of the integration work will be done in-country [South Africa]". Flight clearance activities with the Gripen are expected to begin in mid-2010.

South Africa has ordered 26 Gripen C/Ds, with Flightglobal's MiliCAS database saying that five two-seat examples have been delivered so far.

The nation's first of 17 single-seat fighters flew for the first time in Sweden in early June, and is expected to be delivered in October.

Source: Flight International