Durban - Twelve Gripen fighter jets that were bought as part of the controversial arms deal more than a decade ago are being kept in mothballs.
This was revealed by Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula on Tuesday.
Responding to a parliamentary question, she said the aircraft had been placed in long-term storage, adding that this was “in line with their utilisation and the budget expenditure patterns/flow of the SA Air Force”.
DA MP David Maynier, who had posed the question, then issued a statement in which he sarcastically commented that these jets were “presumably vacuum-packed, like frozen chickens, in a hangar somewhere in South Africa”.
Maynier said that while the Gripen jets were supposed to provide the country with air combat capability, out of the 26 Gripen fighter jets bought, 10 or fewer were operational and there were only six qualified pilots and about 150 flying hours available to the entire 2 Squadron for this year.
“The Gripen fighter jets are effectively grounded because the operating budget has been stripped to the bone,” Maynier said.
He added that one of the biggest scandals of the arms deal was that South Africa had bought military equipment that it could not afford to operate, and this was illustrated by the keeping of the Gripen fighter jets in long-term storage.
“It is imperative that the minister reviews the allocation of the operating funding to the ‘Gripen system’ in the SAAF,” he said.
Defenceweb reported that at a parade at the Waterkloof air force base last month, the deputy air force chief, Major-General Jerry Malinga, said the acquisition and operationalisation of the data link, digital reconnaissance pod and helmet-mounted display gave the Gripen, operated by 2 Squadron, “a world-class capability”.
But he warned that “inadequate funding will severely hinder maintenance and development of the system and impede transformation efforts and targets”.