Thailand’s Air Force: A Leading Power in ASEAN?

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Thailand’s Air Force: A Leading Power in ASEAN?

Thailand expects to have one of the strongest air forces in ASEAN by the end of this decade.

Thailand will have one of the most powerful air forces in Southeast Asia by the end of the decade, a Thai military official told reporters in Bangkok on Wednesday.

According to Thai News Agency, Thai Supreme Commander General Thanasak Patimapragorn said that the Thai Air Force’s procurement of Gripen Fighters will make it a leading force in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) by 2019.

The general added that the Air Force would seek to integrate the Gripen’s information systems with the Thai Navy and Army. He also emphasized that the fighters would only be used for defensive purposes, including for use in a future ASEAN peacekeeping force.

General Patimapragon’s comments came as Thailand took control over the last three Gripen Fighters it had ordered as part of a broader deal with the Swedish company Saab.

In 2007 the Thai Parliament authorized the Air Force to spend 34 billion baht (US$1.1 billion) to replace its aging fleet of U.S. made F-5 aircraft. The military had begun lobbying lawmakers for funds for the procurement after some of Bangkok’s neighbors, including Malaysia, purchased their own modern aircraft.

In 2008 the Air Force reached an agreement with Saab for the purchase 12 Gripen fighter jets (four 2-seaters and eight 1-seaters, two Saab 340 AEW early warning aircraft and a Saab 340 transport plane. The Gripen Integrated Air Defense System, as the aircraft as a whole are called, was delivered in two phases.

In the first stage, which took place during 2010 and 2011, the Air Force inducted six of the Gripen fighters, one of the 340 AEW aircraft, and the 340 transport plane into its fleet. The six Gripen fighters and last 340 AEW aircraft are expected to be operational by the end of this year. The armed forces will officially inaugurate the Gripen Integrated Air Defense System next year, according to the report.

Underscoring the Air Force’s efforts to strengthen its force, Air Force Marshal Prajin Jantong said on Wednesday that Bangkok is hoping to purchase six more Gripen Fighters from Sweden in the near future. Jantong said that first the government would have to approve the funding for the additional procurements.

If the government fails to supply the money, Jantong raised the possibility that Sweden may sell Bangkok the aircraft under a barter system.

On its website, Saab describes the Gripen as “the first of the new generation, multi-role fighter aircraft to enter operational service. Using the latest technology it is capable of performing an extensive range of air-to-air, air-to-surface and reconnaissance missions employing the latest weapons. Gripen is designed to meet the demands of existing and future threats.”

Development on the Gripen fighters, which Sweden portrays as a cheaper alternative to the Eurofighter Typhoon, began in 1979 and Swedish forces declared the first Gripens operational by 1997.

Saab has found the fighter to be a hot commodity on the export market. The company has sold the aircraft to the Czech Republic, the U.K., Hungary and South Africa in addition to Thailand. The Philippine Air Force (PAF) has expressed interest in purchasing some of the aircraft.