The first batch of Gripen fighters for the Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) was delivered in February 2011, reports SAAB Defense. Since then, the Gripen squadron at Wing 7 in Surat Thani has been up in the air a lot and employed at a number of different missions. In mid September 2015 a great milestone was reached when they passed 5000 flight hours with their twelve Gripen. It is an achievement made possible by a combination of many factors.
“I’m proud of our personnel competency and very satisfied with the jets. Our personnel at the squadron, both pilots and technicians, have contributed a lot to make this happen. The fact that everyone is still new to the system means that we have to stop operating and spend some time for education as well. Another important factor is of course the aircraft availability to fly every day. Ever since we received the jets, we have been able to maintain a high serviceability of the fleet. Personally, I think we could have been flying even more than this but we have to keep the hours within the service contract,” says Group Captain Chareon Watanasrimongkol, Chief of Staff Wing 7.
The 5000-hour milestone was celebrated on September 10 with a ceremony at Wing 7 where the Thai Gripen fighters are based. Air Marshal AmpholImbua, Commander Directorate of Logistics, RTAF and Head of RTAF Gripen Project Procurement Administrative Office, together with a delegation from the Saab office in Bangkok and other invited guests joined the ceremony, which included a spectacular Gripen air display.
“I’ve said it many times to many people that Gripen is a pilot friendly aircraft. The flexibility in changing from one mission to another is just a matter of one click of switch. For RTAF, I think Gripen has what it takes regarding our needs and requirements. We’ve conducted various types of missions and the outcome has been highly satisfied. It has also been done with minimum fuzz, which would not have been the case with the old platforms,” says Chareon Watanasrimongkol.
RTAF Gripen’s recent deployments include a reconnaissance mission in the Andaman Sea to locate any illegal migrations. RTAF Gripen and Saab 340 Erieye AEW&C have been a part of this mission since June this year.
“Our task has been to find suspicious ships in our designated Area of Operations (AOR) and then report their location, the heading, the speed and the time of detection to the appointed operations center who will take necessary actions. It has been very simple for us to perform our tasks since the aircraft are very flexible, or I should say very capable of adaptation,” says Chareon Watanasrimongkol.