Friday, July 23, 2010

Thai Gripens To Be Operational In 2011

By Robert Wall wall@aviationweek.com
LONDON

The first of four Royal Thai Air Force Gripen pilots and technicians are undergoing training in Sweden to allow Squadron 701 of the 7th Wing to go operational next year.

Thailand is initially buying six Gripens, with a plan to grow that to 12 aircraft. Further purchases are possible, but will have to await the first operational experiences with the fighter in Thailand, says Wing Cdr. Jackkrit Thammavichai, who will be the first squadron commander. However, he says, “I foresee no problem” in making the case for more aircraft.

Four pilots are now in Sweden to undergo training as instructor pilots, with another six to come to Sweden in January for training as quick reaction alert pilots. The current batch so far has flown the A/B Gripens and will begin work with the C/Ds soon, with their training to end in December.

Thammavichai says the experience to transition former F-5 and F-16 pilots has been good, with the aircraft “easy to fly.” The flight control system is “very smooth,” and the human-machine interface “well designed.”

All six Gripens should be delivered to Thailand by March. The aircraft will initially be armed by AIM-9M Sidewinders and AIM-120 Amraams, although Thailand also is buying the IRIS-T dogfight missile for Gripen use.

As part of the so called Gripen Integrated Air Defense System, the RTAF also will field Erieye early warning aircaft. The entire network is to go operational next year, too, Thammavichai says.

Credit: Saab