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Pretoria - The Gripen and Hawk fighter aircraft acquired through the multi-billion rand arms deal have exceeded expectations, an senior official of the SA Air Force (SAAF) said on Tuesday.
The technologically advanced aircraft had boosted the SAAF's training and national defence capabilities, combat systems director Brig-Gen John Bayne testified at the Seriti Commission.
“We have been delivered by the government an excellent, well-balanced and well-equipped fighter system capability. The Hawk has proven to have a cost-effective, collateral operational capability, especially when packaged with the Gripen, which is our force multiplier,” he said.
“The Gripen has exceeded the SAAF’s and SA National Defence Force’s expectations, especially in the domain of modern, fourth generation integrated systems, deployability, logistics support and reach.”
The old SAAF aircraft had problems with cooling.
“As you know, electronics don’t like heat. They have to be controlled. These aircraft have large avionic systems, therefore the cooling demand on the aircraft is very high for the systems as well as for the crew,” said Bayne.
“This has been overcome on these aircraft by the engines that they have.”
The government acquired 26 Gripen advanced light fighter aircraft and 24 Hawk lead-in fighter trainer aircraft as part of the strategic defence procurement package, commonly referred to as the arms deal.
Bayne said the Hawk and Gripen fighter aircraft had been put to good use since delivery, in line with South Africa’s security environment and requirements.
“Should the security environment change to one of conflict, then the utilisation of the systems will change as and when required to defend and protect the Republic in line with the constitutional mandate.
“In these times of a security situation, the situation is managed as best as possible.”
Should the commission of inquiry, chaired by Judge Willie Seriti, recommend the termination of the aircraft purchases, the implications could be far-reaching.
“The defence force would not be able to meet its constitutional mandate,” said Bayne.
“I believe a fighter system is a national asset. It is part of the national power base and therefore we will lose an element of that power,” he said.
“South Africa is a regional and global player in its own small way. To have a balance of national power, it is essential to have a fighter capability.”
Compared to previous fighter planes, the Gripen generally had an edge because of its night-vision capabilities.
South Africa's acquisitions were not yet fitted with this competence, but this would happen.
“Very shortly we will have this capability on the Gripen.”
Bayne will be back on the witness stand when the commission resumes on Wednesday.
President Jacob Zuma appointed the commission in 2011 to investigate alleged corruption in the 1999 multi-billion rand arms deal. - Sapa