Publication: Business Day
Reporter: Linda Ensor
SA’s R13,7bn Fighter Jets Turn into an Expensive Folly
was left with egg on its face *1 on Friday, following
revelations that the R13,7bn Hawk and Gripen aircraft it bought as part of the
strategic arms acquisition programme might end up being
The defence department’s chief director of
acquisitions, Maj-Gen Otto Schür *5, told
Parliament’s standing committee on public accounts that there was no real use for the fighter aircraft because there was no
“conventional threat” *2.
The decision to purchase the Hawk jet
trainer and Gripen jet fighter, from British manufacturer BAE Systems and
Sweden’s Saab respectively, was highly controversial
as it was claimed at the time that they were not the best
option for the South African Air Force and would cost
substantially more than alternative options.
The acquisition of
the fighter planes is part of the hugely
controversial multibillion-rand arms deal that has been marred by
persistent allegations of corruption against defence department officials and
former deputy president Jacob Zuma, among others.
investigations have been launched in Britain, Germany and Sweden amid complaints
by investigators that they were not getting enough co-operation from South
Schür said the air force was
reducing its combat capability as there was no conventional threat against SA or
Transport capabilities were of
greater importance and were receiving a bigger share of the budget, he
“The current need for combat aircraft and
combat aircraft support for joint operations is very low because there is
no real conventional threat.
“For that reason, the air force is focusing
mainly on transport capabilities (both helicopter and fixed wing) as well as the
training of new pilots to feed into the squadrons to prepare for future
operations,” Schür said.
“Instead of 200 hours a year per aircraft, we
may only achieve 100 hours per aircraft. We will not
use them as often because there is no need in the short term.
time as the physical risk to national security escalates, where it requires a
larger investment in combat systems, this is a wilful decision to reduce the
investment in that environment.”
The head of the South African Air Force,
Lt-Gen Carlo Gagiano, has echoed the same sentiments, saying in the department’s
2005-06 annual report *3 that “extraordinary levels of underfunding” meant it would not be possible to use Hawks and Gripens at their optimum
Schür justified the purchase of the
aircraft *5 even though they were not immediately necessary, saying any country had to have the ability to defend its territorial and
regional integrity should there be a threat.
With acknowledgements to Linda Ensor and Business Day.
*1 Now it's not just three quarters
of an ostrich egg, the full egg of the white elephant bird.
*2 This is nonsense.
How can the Gripens
be used when they haven't even been delivered, not even one.
Gripen is being delivered in 2008 and then at the rate of a few per year up
until (2012 or is it 2015?).
In any case a few Gripens cannot be used
until an initial operational capability is attained, and this requires a minimum
number of physical aircraft, full support capability and pilot training. This is
still some years ahead, at least 3 to 5.
But why does the country need
Gripens before 2012?
They don't, because there are two squadrons (38
aircraft) of 10-year Cheetah C third generation fighters flying in the SAAF at
present, at least ready to be flown if the SAAF had pilots and jet
The lifespan of the Cheetah Cs can easily be extended by five years
and even ten years.
But we all knew this - so why did Tbabo Mbeki, Joe
Modise, et al go about buying 28 fourth generation Gripen jet fighters at about
R1 billion each in 1997.
The reason is money, not regional military
After 1994 any serious and honest threat evaluation, which are
continually being undertaken by both National Intelligence and Military
Intelligence would have shown that there was unlikely to be a conventional
military threat for 20 to 30 years. But sure, a country the size of South Africa
does need a appropriate air defence capability.
But we had one, 38
essentially brand-new Cheetah Cs, good for the next 15 to 20 years from
We should certainly have started looking at replacing the Cheetah
Cs at some time.
Around 5 years before the Cheetah Cs initial planned
life time, would having been a good time to begin a new procurement process for
their replacement if it were indeed determined that a life extension was
undesirable for any valid reason.
So that would have been about now, the
year 2007 AD.
And 5 years would have been plenty of time to acquire 28
The USA is awash with surplus F-16 fighters which
in their latest incarnation are both highly capable (more than a match for
anything south of the Sahara) and comparatively very affordable.
the very suppliers of the fourth generation Gripen JAS-39 is also awash with
their indigenous jet fighters.
Indeed, so mush awash that they have a
Before the wall came tumbling down in the late 1980s, Sweden
(naturally) considered the Soviet Union as her biggest military threat. Being
only a hop and skip from this perceived enemy, the Swedish Air Force invested in
some 204 Gripens.
But with the break-up of the Soviet Union and some of
the ex Soviet states , including Russia and Ukraine even wanting to join NATO
(can one actually believe this happening in their lifetime? - but it's true),
the Swedish Air Force realised it had invested in some 50% too many
Some of these aircraft would already have been delivered by its
manufacturer Saab and others would have already been ordered to be delivered
over the next few years (probably with a threat of cancellation by Swedish Air
So around 1995 Saab knew it was in big trouble and knew it had to
find an export market for these excess Gripens.
So Saab started looking
around for buyers in a post-USSR world awash with excess military hardware,
including a range of top line jet fighters, as well as in a western world
determined to reap a peace dividend.
Saab realised that selling its
indigenous Gripen was a very hard sell indeed.
So Saab flew off to the
recognised non-US masters of the "hard sell", British Aerospace. With tthe UK
not having a light fighter aircraft of its own, BAe recognised the opportunity
and responded positively in two ways :
Now all Saab had
to do is sit back and watch the masters get rid of 102 Gripen
- it purchase 20-odd percent of Saab; and
- assumed responsibility for marketing the Gripen.
And so the British experts rushed to the four corners of the
globe with their swag bags of wonga ready to splodge.
First in line were
South Africa, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Finland and Poland.
African quickly excluded competition from the US in respect of the Armscor
missile technology smuggling issue.
However, BAe and Saab quickly came up
against US competition for their Gripen JAS-39 in the form of military
heavyweight Lockheed Martin and its F-16 and F-18.
So BAe did its normal
thing, bribed all and sundry across the length and breadth of each home country
in the respective arm of service, defence department and parliament. The
Americans squealed louder than stuck pigs and were successful in Poland, who had
initially chosen US aircraft, only to have this overturned in favour of the
Gripen and then overturned back to the US F-16 and Finland which opted for
However BAe/Saab were successful in Hungary, which purchased 14
aircraft, and the Czech Republic which initially opted to purchase a number of
new Gripens, but later changed this in favour of leasing 14 used aircraft for a
sum of SEK 6, 5 billion (SEK1,00 is the equivalent of R1,00) from Sweden for a
period of ten years.
The Czech deal especially is really lucrative, so
much so that it attracted "commissions" of about SEK 1 billion or about
Clearly the main middleman, Count Alfons Mensdorff-Pouilly was to
receive 4% while two others, Otto Jelinek and Richard Hava were to receive about
If the outright purchase option had been exercised Count Alfons
Mensdorff-Pouilly would have received about SEK 540 million (about R550 million)
while Otto Jelinek and Richard Hava would have received about SEK 400 million
With the lease option having been exercised and the percentages
remaining the same, the actual commissions would have been about a third of the
*3 2005-06 Annual Report ?
- how is it possible to use something at below its optimum level when one
doesn't have the darn thing?
Me thinks there's some serious bull-dusting
going on here, mostly probably softening up parliamentary and public opinion for
Could it possible be that when corruption is proven
following the British and Swedish investigations, that Armscor cancels the
contracts *4 before delivery takes place. Remember no Gripens and very few Hawks
have been delivered and if the Cheetah Cs are still good, there's an ongoing
situation of extraordinary underfunding and whatever funds that are available
are needed for the Airbus A400Ms, then who
*4 In terms of the supply agreements
Armscor can cancel these if bribery or corruption is proven.
In the case
of the corvettes, although bribery has been proven, by the time the Supreme
Court ratified the verdicts, all four corvettes had been delivered and therefore
it would have been detrimental to the country to cancel the contracts and hand
back the corvette to the European South African Corvette Consortium
(ESACC). *5 Brig-Gen
(as he then was) Otto Schür, was the DoD's Director of Air Force Acquisition in
the heady days of the aircraft selection and contracting.
He would know
that the SAAF was not yet ready to acquire an advanced light fighter aircraft,
firstly because the SAAF already had the Cheetah Cs and secondly because the
SAAF Operations Council had formally decided in 1997 that it was
He would also have known that the selection process for the
lead-in fighter trainer led to the clear selection of the MB-339FD by both the
SAAF and the DoD.