SAAB JAS-39 Gripen for RTAF (photo : Gripen)
Thailand's House of Representatives approved a Fiscal Year 2011 (FY11) defence budget of THB170 billion (USD5.4 billion) on 26 August, an expenditure that includes funds allocated to a second batch of six Saab JAS 39 Gripen fighter aircraft for the Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF).
The allocation is a 10 per cent increase over actual defence spending in FY09 and accounts for 8 per cent of the total national expenditure. It is equal to approximately 1.7 per cent of GDP.
Between 25 and 30 cent of the defence budget is earmarked for capital expenditure, which includes a down payment on six JAS 39 Gripens and funding for the mid-life upgrade of the RTAF's Lockheed Martin F-16A/Bs.
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Thailand Buying JAS-39 Gripens, AWACS
30 Agustus 2010
Thailand’s 2011 budget begins funding 2nd phase buy; Training & fielding details. (Aug 30/10)
It’s a small, agile fighter that can take off and land on highways, while carrying the latest technologies and weapons. It does very well against NATO’s best aircraft in exercises, comes with a reasonable price tag, and is built for low lifetime operating costs. Unfortunately, in a world where people often buy your weapons because they want you to be their friend, the cachet of having Sweden in your corner isn’t quite what it used to be when their sailors wore those cool horned helmets. As a result, the JAS-39 Gripen is an excellent, reasonably-priced fighter yet it has been struggling for traction in the global marketplace.
A recent sale to Thailand has expanded Saab’s horizons somewhat, as the Gripen beat out the SU-30s favored by the previous Thai government. Lockheed Martin’s F-16 had been considered the leading contender to replace the RTAF’s 15-25 aging F-5B/Es, given Thailand’s extensive history with that aircraft. Other candidates included Russia’s MiG-29, and France’s Rafale. Saab had a very competitive offering on cost and performance, but in order to win, they had to throw in a very significant “something extra”: their Saab 340-AEW AWACS aircraft.
The Thai AF and the Program
At present, the Royal Thai Air Force’s fighter fleet consists of old 1960s-70 era upgraded F-5E/F Tiger IIs, plus AV-8S Harrier IIs and F-16A/B fighters. A number of its neighbors are currently flying longer-range and more advanced SU-27/30 Flanker fighters, however, including India (SU-30MK & SU-30MKI), Indonesia (SU-27SK & SU-30MK), Malaysia (SU-30MKM), Vietnam (SU-27SK), and China (SU-27SK/J-11 & SU-30MKK).
In mid-October 2007 The Thai Cabinet approved a budget of 34.4 billion baht (about $1.1 billion) for the Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) to purchase 12 JAS-39 Gripen multi-role fighters to replace its aging fleet of F-5 B/E Tiger II aircraft (the Israeli-upgraded F-5Ts with DASH helmet displays and Python missiles will remain in service). The RTAF would also buy 2 Saab S-1000/ S340 Erieye Airborne Early Warning aircraft, together with associated equipment and services.
The Saab Erieye AWACS was recently sold to Pakistan, and uses a fixed active-array S-band antenna with 200 solid state modules. The look angle on each side is about 160 degrees, with a maximum range of about 450 km (279 miles) from 20,000 feet, and effective range against fighter-size or seaborne targets of about 300-330 km (180-205 miles). The electronically scanned antenna can scan sectors of interest frequently while others are monitored, and a single sector can be scanned in different modes at the same time.
Thai Air force chief Chalit Phukphasuk Chavalit reportedly met with Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont on Sept 29/07 and convinced him to support the purchase, citing the need for new combat aircraft to match neighboring Malaysia’s new SU-30MKMs. Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra reportedly ordered then air force chief ACM Kongsak Wantana to switch to the SU-30s for Thailand’s own purchase, but ACM Chalit rejected the plane as unsuited to Thailand’s needs when he became the new air force chief.
Negotiations between Thai and Swedish government officials followed, in order to conclude a formal agreement. Delivery of the Gripens into operational service of the Royal Thai Air Force is now planned for 2011, and the buy is divided into 2 phases:
Phase 1 covers 6 JAS-39 Gripen fighters (2x JAS-39C single-seat, 4x JAS-39D 2-seat), including spare parts and training; and 2 Saab 340 turboprop aircraft. One Saab 340 will be outfitted as an S-1000 airborne early warning system with Saab’s Erieye radar, while the other will be a training and transport platform. The cost would be about 19 billion baht/ SEK 3.8 billion/ $600 million1, spread within a 5-year budgetary commitment from 2008-2012.
The Swedish fighters will be stationed at the air force base in Surat Thani, where Wing 7 would cover the Gulf of Thailand, the Andaman Sea and the southern region of the country. An S340 ERIEYE Airborne Early Warning radar system and one additional Saab 340 aircraft will be delivered in December 2010. The RTAF will receive 3 JAS-39 C/D fighters in January 2011m and another 3 in March 2010. One Command and Control C2 system, including equipment for 3 ground based Radio sites will be delivered in March 2011. The first 6 Gripens are expected to be fully operational around September 2011.
In Phase 2, the RTAF intends to procure an additional 6 Gripen fighters together with associated equipment, spare parts and training, and a 2nd Saab S340 Erieye AEW system aircraft, for about $500 million over a 5-year budgetary commitment from 2013-2017. A budget squeeze ended up delaying this option, but it seems to be moving forward again.
Sweden has offered the Gripen fighters with a 2-year maintenance and spare parts support package. As is frequently the case, Saab’s deal includes industrial offsets and benefits involving Saab investment, and Thai-Swedish industrial, science & technology co-operation, technology transfer, and investment co-operation.