The arrival of six Gripen jet fighters today will usher in a modern era for the Royal Thai Air Force, commander Itthaporn Subhawong says.
The air force will take delivery of 12 Swedish-made Gripen fighters, worth almost 40 billion baht, after the cabinet approved the purchase of the jets in 2008 when Samak Sundaravej was the prime minister and defence minister.
The Gripen 39 C/D aircraft will replace the ageing F-5A/B jets. The F-5A/B aircraft will be completely phased out by the end of this year.
The first batch of the Gripen fighters is due to arrive at Don Muang air force base after flying out of Sweden on Feb18 and will be stationed at the Wing 7 air force base in Surat Thani.
The second batch of six Gripen jet fighters is scheduled to arrive next year.
ACM Itthaporn said yesterday he was convinced the jet fighters would bring modern and significant changes to the air force.With the fighters, the air force would be transformed to a network-oriented system, he said.
”The Gripen is like a new type of computer with all the modern stuff. Most importantly, the supplier has agreed to transfer all the technology to us,” ACM Itthaporn said, adding that software for the fighters could be constantly updated.
He said the capabilities of fighter pilots would have to change completely as the new system on the jets would provide them with flight information linked to the other fighters on a screen before them.
ACM Itthaporn said the US had allowed the Secos-link system on the Gripen fighters to link with the system of the US-made F16 fighters.
An air force source said permission was obtained after Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva raised the matter with US President Barack Obama during his visit to the US last month.
ACM Itthaporn said the air force was working closely with the navy to develop a data link system because the two forces would soon hold a joint military exercise and information on the Gripen fighters would be hooked up with navy ships.
The frigate HTMS Naresuan would be the first to be linked with the fighters, he said.
ACM Itthaporn said a Saab 340 Erieye airborne early warning aircraft that the air force also bought from the Swedish government would be connected to all the Gripen fighters.
The Saab 340 aircraft is now stationed at Wing 7 air force base.
He said the air force had also spent about 1.1 billion baht on building a hangar for the Gripen jets and the Saab 340 aircraft as well as ground stations and ground logistics support systems.
ACM Itthaporn said he would conduct test flights of the six Gripen jet fighters that would be delivered today.
The air force chief conducted test flights of Gripen fighters in Sweden in 2004 when he was chief of the directorate of RTAF operations.
The air force later decided to purchase the 12 Gripen fighters in 2007 and submitted a request to the cabinet the following year.
He said a cabinet meeting on Feb 15 also approved a budget of about 6.9billion baht to be spent on an upgrade for the air force’s six F16 jet fighters that would be stationed at Wing 4, Takhli air force base in Nakhon Sawan province.
He thanked Prime Minister Abhisit for throwing his support behind the project and said the premier had a good understanding of the air force’s needs.
”We are not getting any commission from the purchase of the air force jet fighters,” ACM Itthaporn said.
ScandAsia was there – see the photos below: