What with Russia flying new jets, the Defense Department revealing its budget, and other news, a small but important item almost slipped past unnoticed by us ... but not by Saab executives in Sweden for whom the news is doubtless a pleasant balm while they also bite their fingernails over the fighter competition in Brazil.
Thailand's cabinet gave its approval, in principle, on January 26 for the purchase of six more Saab Gripen fighters and one more Erieye Saab-340 -based airborne early warning and control system (AEW&C), and for the upgrade of some of the Royal Thai Air Force's Lockheed Martin F-16s.
The first six Gripen C/Ds are due to be delivered next year. Thai pilots and maintenance personnel are already in Sweden, learning how to handle the aircraft, and they will be staying for a year ... despite the snowiest winter Sweden has seen for years.
However, the news from the Thai cabinet is not a complete surprise given that Bangkok always intended to buy 12 Gripens but had to split its original order in two in 2008 for budgetary reasons. The cabinet approval means the RTAF can go ahead and sign a contract with the FWV Swedish procurement agency for the second-half of the original contract.
According to Thai news reports quoting RTAF deputy spokesman Monthon Satchukorn, the budget approved for the six Gripens is about 15.4 billion baht ($462 million) and to upgrade the F-16 fighters is about 6.9 billion baht ($207 million).
Monthon said the air force originally planned to upgrade 18 F-16 fighters at a cost of more than 20 billion baht but had revised its plans and would now carry out the upgrade in three phases involving six F-16s each. The first to be upgraded will be the F-16 A/Bs from Nakhon Sawan-based Wing 4.
The 12 Gripens are to replace the 12 F-5 E/F fighters, in operation at the Surat Thani-based Wing 7 for 30 years.
photo credit: Saab