LYNN, Massachusetts - The government of South Africa's selection of Saab and British Aerospace as preferred bidders to supply defense aircraft results in the first export of Saab's JAS 39 Gripen multi-role fighter aircraft and a new market for GE Aircraft Engines' (GEAE) highly successful F404 engine family.

Through an agreement with the Saab-British Aerospace joint venture, South Africa said it will purchase up to 28 single-engine JAS 39 Gripen aircraft early in the 21st century for the South African Air Force. Manufactured by Saab of Sweden, the fighter is powered by the RM12 engine, a derivative of GEAE's highly successful F404 engine.

The RM12 is produced jointly by Volvo Aero Corp. of Sweden and GEAE's Lynn, Massachusetts, engine production facility. The engine is assembled at Volvo using a production kit supplied by GEAE.

The RM12 currently powers the Swedish Air Force's fleet of JAS 39 Gripen fighters. GEAE and Volvo are under contract to produce a total of 227 RM12 engines for the Swedish Air Force through the year 2006.

"Being part of the Gripen team has been an excellent experience for GEAE," said George Bolln, general manager of GEAE's F404/F414 engine programs. "This is a significant win for Gripen as its first export sale, and we look forward to future business with the Gripen fighter in the global marketplace."

The Gripen is being evaluated by several air forces in Eastern Europe, South America, and Asia Pacific.

The F404 engine family has been in production since 1980. In addition to the Gripen, the F404 family powers the F/A-18 Hornet for the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps., Canada, Spain, Finland, Switzerland, Thailand, Australia, Malaysia, and Kuwait. Other applications include the U.S. Air Force F-117 Stealth Fighter and Singapore's A-4. With more than 3,600 engines in service, the F404 has accumulated more than seven million flight hours in all types of global operating environments, including marine, arctic cold, and desert heat. Last year, the F404 won a new aircraft application as the engine for the Republic of Korea's KTX-2 advanced trainer/light combat aircraft.