January 30, 2010:
Three years ago, Thailand decided to replace its aging F-5 fighters with a dozen Swedish JAS-39 Gripen fighters. The first six were ordered two years ago, and now the government has agreed to buy the second six. The main reason for the purchase, aside from the age (over 30 years) of the twelve F-5s, is the purchase of modern Russian fighters (Su-30s) by neighbors Malaysia and Indonesia. Thailand is also upgrading six of its elderly F-16B fighters.
The Gripens cost about $55 million each (with spares, support and training.) The 14 ton JAS-39 is roughly comparable with the latest versions of the F-16. It is also used by Sweden, South Africa, Hungary, and the Czech Republic. Thai pilots and maintenance personnel are already in Sweden, learning how to operate the aircraft. The first six will be delivered next year. The second six will not all arrive until 2017. The slow delivery is because Thailand does not have the money to buy the aircraft all at once.
At the same time, two Swedish Erieye AEW (Aerial Early Warning) aircraft are also being purchased, for $170 million each. The system is a Saab 2000 airliner mounting a Swedish Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar (which consists of thousands of tiny radars that can be independently aimed in different directions). This is similar to the AESA radar used on the American JSTARS aircraft, enabling it to locate vehicles moving on the ground. The Swedish AESA is cheaper, because its built like a long bar, mounted on top of the aircraft. This means the radar can only see, in a 120 degree arc, off both sides of the aircraft. A 60 degree arc in the front and back is uncovered. The radar can spot large aircraft out to nearly 500 kilometers, and more common fighter sized aircraft at about 300 kilometers. The Saab 2000 is a 22 ton, twin prop aircraft, with a cruising speed of 660 kilometers an hour. The aircraft can stay in the air about four hours per sortie. The radar can also spot ships at sea, and thus can also fill in for maritime reconnaissance.