South Africa has recently signed a contract with GKN Aerospace, a global engineering company, for the maintenance of the engines of its Gripen fighter jets.
This contract ensures that both engines and airframes are now fully supported, fortifying the operational readiness of South Africa’s Gripen fleet.
The engine maintenance contract, worth R327 million, covers the period from August 2023 to end July 2026 and ensures that the South African Air Force (SAAF) has full support for both the airframes and engines of its Gripen fleet.
The timeline leading to this contract included several crucial steps. Original equipment manufacturer Saab had already secured an airframe support contract for the Gripen, in effect from September 2022 to August 2025. This contract, valued at R650 million, significantly contributes to the overall support framework.
According to a DefenceWeb report, it took some time to finalize the contract with GKN Aerospace for Gripen engine support. This contract is now in place and covers the period from August 2023 to end July 2026. With a value of R327 million, including R145 million currently funded, this agreement is set to play a pivotal role in maintaining the Gripen’s airworthiness.
The Gripen is a multi-role combat aircraft developed by Saab, a Swedish aerospace company, and is operated by several countries around the world. South Africa is Saab’s first export customer for the Gripen C/D variant, which it acquired in 2008 as part of the controversial arms deal.
The SAAF has 26 Gripen C/Ds in its inventory, but one was written off following a ground incident. Due to budget constraints, only 13 aircraft are currently operational, while the remaining 12 are in storage. The SAAF also operates 24 Hawk Mk 120 lead-in fighter-trainers, which are used to train pilots for the Gripen.
The SAAF had to ground its Gripen fleet in September 2021 due to the delay in finalising new maintenance support contracts with Saab and GKN as the original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) respectively. However, in 2022, Saab received a support contract valued at R650 million for the service, repairs and maintenance of the Gripen airframes, as well as minor updates of the support and training systems. This contract runs for three years from September 2022 to end August 2025.
With the addition of the GKN contract for the Gripen engines, the SAAF can now resume full operations of its fighter jet fleet. enabled a Gripen to return to the skies in September 2022, and these aircraft played a prominent role in events like the Africa Aerospace and Defence (AAD) 2022 and the BRICS Summit in Johannesburg, where they conducted combat air patrols alongside Hawk Mk 120s.
This support contract is particularly essential as the South African Air Force has had to manage its tight budget carefully. The Saab contract covers 13 Gripen aircraft over three years, considering that one Gripen was written off after a ground incident. The remaining 12 aircraft will remain in storage.
The SAAF’s Hawk fleet also has maintenance contracts in place with BAE Systems, Rolls Royce and Paramount Advanced Technologies for the airframes, engines and avionics respectively. These contracts cover various periods from 2021 to 2026 and are worth a total of R288.6 million.
The maintenance support contracts for the Gripen and Hawk fleets are crucial for ensuring the operational readiness and capability of the SAAF’s jet combat aircraft. They also demonstrate the commitment of South Africa to maintain its strategic defence assets and its partnership with international aerospace companies.