Aerial Warfare

Royal Thai Air Force Considers Swedish Gripen Jets as Alternative to US F-35A Fighters

Royal Thai Air Force Saab Gripen D fighter aircraft
Royal Thai Air Force Saab Gripen D fighter aircraft. (Photo by RTAF)

Amidst the recent denial by the United States to sell F-35A fighter jets, the Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) is now contemplating the acquisition of three Gripen jet fighters from Sweden. The intention behind this plan is to augment the RTAF fleet stationed in Wing 7, which is based in Surat Thani. As of now, the RTAF operates 12 advanced Swedish Gripen fighters in Wing 7, Surat Thani, with one unfortunate loss due to an accident. Each of these highly capable Swedish jets carries a price tag of approximately 2 billion baht. In addition, Sweden is expected to update the RTAF’s radar system, which has been in service for a decade and is due for an upgrade. This modernization endeavor is projected to cost around 4 billion baht.

While no panel has been formed by RTAF commander-in-chief ACM Alongkorn Wannarot to study and select suitable fighter aircraft as replacements for Thailand’s F-16 fighter jets, which have served for over three decades, the consideration of Gripen jets represents a viable alternative. Given the budget constraints for the fiscal year 2024, the procurement of 4.5-generation fighter jets, such as the F-16 block 70 and F-15 aircraft recommended by the United States, is currently infeasible. The US has emphasized the suitability of 4.5-generation fighter jets for the RTAF, with the intention of paving the way for potential future purchases of F-35A jets. However, the process of supplying F-35A jets to a new buyer entails a minimum of 10 years, including the installation of specific infrastructure, training facilities, and security systems.

Royal Thai Air Force Saab Gripen C/D fighter aircrafts. (Photo by RTAF)
Royal Thai Air Force Saab Gripen C/D fighter aircrafts. (Photo by RTAF)

In 2007, Thailand’s Parliament authorized the Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) to spend up to 34 billion baht (US$1.1 billion) as part of an effort to replace Thailand’s existing Northrop F-5 fleet. In February 2008, the RTAF ordered six Gripens (two single-seat C-models and four two-seat D-models) from Saab; deliveries began in 2011. Thailand ordered six more Gripen Cs in November 2010; deliveries began in 2013. Thailand may eventually order as many as 40 Gripens. In 2010, Surat Thani Airbase was selected as the RTAF’s main Gripen operating base. The first of the six aircraft were delivered on 22 February 2011. Saab delivered three Gripens in April 2013, and three more in September 2013. The RTAF intends for the Gripen’s information systems to be integrated with Army and Navy systems. The armed forces were to officially inaugurate the Gripen Integrated Air Defence System during 2014.

The Saab JAS 39 Gripen is a light single-engine multirole fighter aircraft manufactured by the Swedish aerospace and defense company Saab AB. The Gripen has a delta wing and canard configuration with relaxed stability design and fly-by-wire flight controls. Later aircraft are fully NATO interoperable. A major redesign of the Gripen series, previously referred to as Gripen NG (Next Generation) or Super JAS, now designated JAS 39E/F Gripen began deliveries to the Swedish Air Force and Brazilian Air Force in 2019. Changes from the JAS C to JAS E include a larger fuselage, a more powerful engine, an increased weapons payload capability, and new cockpit, avionics architecture, electronic warfare system and other improvements.

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