The affordable education loan option
Pretoria - The SA Air Force is “very proud” of the aircraft acquired through the multi-billion rand arms deal, the Seriti Commission of Inquiry heard on Tuesday.
The technologically advanced aircraft had boosted the SAAF's capabilities in training and national defence, combat systems director Brig-Gen John Bayne testified.
“We were the first to receive such capabilities even before the Swedish air force. The (SA) Air Force is very proud to have this capability,” he said.
“It was a fine feather in the cap for the project (the strategic defence procurement package, commonly referred to as the arms deal( to achieve that. It was a highly technological step.”
On the Gripen fighter jet, Bayne said the aircraft had an extended flying range owing to its three fuel tanks.
“It can be sent to areas of long distances with those tanks fitted; in the field those tanks can be removed and more bombs or missiles can be added onto the aircraft,” he said.
“In addition to that, the aircraft can be refuelled in the air.
“That gives enormous range to these aircraft should they be required to carry out roles in those distances in national interests.”
Compared to previous fighter planes, the Gripen generally had an edge because of its night vision capabilities, though South Africa's acquisitions were not yet fitted with this competence.
“The cockpit is designed to be able to operate with night vision goggles. This gives the crew the ability to see at night. This technology is well established in our helicopter line and has been used extensively,” said Bayne.
“It (the night vision capability) was not delivered as part of the project. The aircraft were delivered to be compatible but the air force will deliver the goggles. Very shortly we will have this capability on the Gripen.”
Government acquired 26 Gripen and 24 Hawk fighters as part of the arms deal.
Bayne told the commission that the aircraft were also “gender friendly”.
“We have three female fighter pilots currently. One of them is fully qualified on the Gripen and has flown in exercises and we had no problems,” he said.
“From a gender perspective there is no restriction on women in South Africa to be fighter pilots and we are very proud of that.”
On Monday, Bayne said the purchase of aircraft from Sweden, where climatic and operating conditions were different to those in Africa, had been questioned.
However, the aircraft were thoroughly tested before they were acquired, and were flown in harsh conditions including snow and rain.
The Gripen was the SAAF's only full-fighter aircraft, while the Hawk was primarily a fighter-trainer aircraft.
Bayne said the SAAF had taken over full ownership and delivery of the Hawks, and that ownership of the Gripen was expected to be concluded only in early 2015.
President Jacob Zuma appointed the commission, chaired by Judge Willie Seriti, in 2011 to investigate alleged corruption in the 1999 multi-billion rand arms deal. - Sapa