The Royal Thai Air Force has marked 10 years since ordering the Saab Gripen and 10,000 flying hours. These are milestones that reflect an innovative approach to fighter operations in a region that is rapidly evolving to meet future needs. When it began researching a new fighter aircraft to replace its ageing F-5E Tiger IIs of Wing 7 at Surat Thani, it was thinking outside the box. Not only was it looking for a new shooter, but this forward-looking air force also wanted the sensors and infrastructure to tie together a new net-centric aspiration. Traditionally a purchaser of US military hardware, Thailand had something of a scattergun approach, buying an unusual range of types to suit its diverse range of needs and to help court various allies.
Saab was able to offer what was essentially a plug-and-play solution — a complete Swedish air power package closely based on the proven domestic pairing of the Gripen and the Saab 340 Erieye Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C). A contract was signed in February 2008 for a first batch of six new-build JAS 39C/Ds and a single second-hand Erieye, drawn from surplus Swedish Air Force stocks. On July 8, 2011, the RTAF officially declared its new air defense system — consisting of the first six Gripens and the Erieye — operational. The AEW aircraft also came with a basic command and control system that has been regularly updated and integrates with a network of ground-based radars and the indigenous Link T system, which is a Saab datalink that networks the Gripens with the Erieye and ground stations.
In typical Swedish style, the whole deal included an attractive series of offsets, including scholarships that formed part of a skills building and education package that included full-time study in Sweden for Thai students.
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