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Gripen won't be grounded

Date: 26 October 2010

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The defence force will find the money within its shrunken budget to keep South Africa's fleet of Gripen fighter jets flying, Defence Minister Lindiwe Sisulu said on Tuesday.

Sisulu said a warning in the department's annual report that the aircraft, which cost some R10bn, risked being mothballed was based on a worst-case scenario if the military failed to secure extra money from Treasury, as has happened.

"This is in its starkest form what our analysts told us if would happen if we do not have the money that was asked for," Sisulu told a media briefing in Cape Town.

"But we will have to find a way to be able to take a few there and make sure that we are functional. We need to be fully functional and we can assure you that we will be functional."

The report warned that the Gripen as well South Africa's helicopter systems, which formed a substantial part of the controversial 1999 arms deal, were hanging in the balance because of chronic underfunding.

Defence analysts said this would leave South Africa with no combat capability and compromise its peacekeeping work in areas like Darfur because it could not enforce a no-fly zone.

Recover Airbus money

"We were counting purely from a technical perspective what this would mean, as you would if suddenly you were locked in this room and you were not able to go home. Very soon after assessing what it would mean you would obviously find a way out of here," Sisulu said.

She said her department was hoping that it could use money it was seeking to recover from Airbus after cancelling an order for eight A400 strategic aircraft last year.

She said defence initiated the decision to pull out of the deal after costs rocketed to R47bn, with a view to using the money to plug other holes.

It is claiming back R2.7bn from Airbus and hopes to conclude negotiations on a refund by year's end.

The warning over the Gripen follow reports that the military's Rooivalk attack helicopters are being grounded.

Source: News24


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