August 13, 2012
Credit: Credit: Saab
Bill Sweetman Washington
Sweden's slow but determined entry onto the world fighter stage is taking another step forward. At the same time, Saab is talking more in public about networked air combat capabilities that rest on decades of experience, much of which was long kept secret.
Saab and the Swedish and South African air forces are moving to establish a new Fighter Weapons School at the SAAF's Overberg base, in the southern Cape area, to develop advanced combat skills within the growing world community of Gripen pilots. The first class is due to open in October 2013.
In announcing the FWS, the company discussed its concept of networked tactics for the new JAS 39E/F fighter. Ultimately, Overberg's expansive ranges could provide an ideal environment for this technology.
A former site for secret South African/Israeli missile tests, Overberg hosts the SAAF's test squadron and was chosen because it offers access to maritime, desert and high-elevation training areas, live ordnance areas and instrumented ranges with land targets. According to Saab South Africa President Magnus Lewis-Olsson, the goal is “to make good pilots great,” and the FWS will specialize in providing advanced skills to midcareer pilots who can then teach those skills to their own air forces.
The school will initially offer one focused two-month course per year, with possible topics including the use of targeting pods or helmet-mounted displays. It is expected that one or two pilots from each operator nation will attend, and although the first courses will be led by Swedish or South African pilots, it is expected that later courses will be planned by FWS graduates, who will also form the instructor pool.
The SAAF will provide the school with between four and six JAS 39C/D Gripens, plus aggressors (opposition aircraft) and targets if necessary, and each student will fly 20 day and night sorties. Discussions with other Gripen operators have already started. Airborne early warning and control aircraft or tankers could be added later.