Gripen, Rooivalk Deliveries Bring SAAF up to Strength

 - September 28, 2012, 10:20 AM
The South African Air Force displayed one of its Gripens at last week’s African Aerospace and Defence show with a Thales DJRP reconnaissance pod on the fuselage, Mk 82 bombs on twin wing racks and the Iris-T air-to-air missile. (Photo: David Donald)

The South African Air Force (SAAF) received the final four of 26 Gripen fighters this month, as well as its ninth and tenth upgraded Rooivalk attack helicopters.

The final quartet of Gripens were officially handed over to the SAAF No. 2 Squadron earlier this year, but Saab retained them at its Linköping plant, primarily to allow the SAAF to participate in the Lion Effort exercise held at Ronneby in Sweden. For their delivery to South Africa the aircraft were flown to Norrköping before being loaded on the vessel Archangelgracht. They were unloaded at Cape Town and towed along public roads to Ysterplaat AFB, from where they took off for the last leg of their journey to Makhado. South Africa’s Gripen pilots have been using the Cobra helmet-mounted display since last year, and the Thales Digital Joint Reconnaissance Pod was added to the aircraft’s repertoire this year.

While SAAF Gripens are currently armed with the Iris-T air-to-air missiles as an interim measure, development of the joint South African-Brazilian A-Darter missile is expected to be complete in 2014 leading to initial operational capability in 2015. This weapon is now fully integrated with the Gripen, while negotiations are currently under way covering the second phase of integration with the Hawk advanced jet trainer. Of the 30 or so A-Darter test-firings to date, nine have been from the Gripen itself. Three of these air-launched shots have been full end-to-end guided trials against live targets.

Denel Dynamics continues to work on an active radar-guided missile for the Gripen and other platforms. This program has been ongoing for some while under various names, such as T-Darter, but is now known as Radar-Darter. The seeker will also be used in the Umkhonto-R 80-kilometer surface-to-air missile. Denel expects the first firing tests in 2014.

In early September Denel redelivered the ninth and tenth Rooivalk attack helicopters following their upgrade to the Block 1F initial operating standard. The first five were delivered in April 2011, allowing No. 16 Squadron to finally become fully operational on the type. One Rooivalk that has been retained for trials will be delivered before year-end, completing the operational fleet.

Rooivalk development continues as part of the “Post-1F” program, and is initially looking at mission enhancements such as long-range ferry tanks. The Block 1F machine is cleared to fire only its dual-feed 20mm cannon and unguided rockets, but work continues on integrating the Mokopa anti-tank missile. A number of firings have been made and baseline integration is complete. However, and despite training rounds being displayed alongside the Rooivalk on show at last week’s African Aerospace and Defence show, full Mokopa integration awaits funding from the South African government.