THAILAND aims to become a leading power in Asean by having one of the strongest air forces in the region by the end of this decade.
In 2008, the Royal Thai Air Force spent up to Bt34 billion on the purchase of 12 Swedish-made Gripen fighter jets as part of an effort to replace the ageing |F-5A/B jets.
The JAS 39 Gripen is a light, single-engine, multi-role fighter aircraft manufactured by the Swedish aerospace company Saab.
The Royal Thai Air Force ordered a complete aircraft and command and control system from the Swedish Defence Materiel Administration in a government-to-government deal, according to GlobalSecurity.org website.
The order includes a first batch of six Gripen C/D with associated equipment and services, one Saab 340 aircraft equipped with Erieye radar (AEW), a Saab 340 for transport and training plus an integrated command and control system with data links, the site said.
The second batch of six Gripen C fighters and another Saab 340 Erieye AEW was ordered in 2010 and the delivery completed in 2013.
The Gripen are now based at the Surat Thani airbase, where they replaced a depleted and rapidly ageing squadron of F5 fighters.
In early September 2013, during the delivery of three Gripen fighter jets, which was the last batch of the total of 12 Gripen jets, one of them was struck by lightning while flying over India. The accident caused minor damage to its electronic system, authorities said.
Later, while presiding over a ceremony to commission the Gripen Integrated Air Defence System at the Wing 7 Air Base in Surat Thani, then supreme commander General Tanasak Patimapragorn said that the procurement of the Gripen fighters would make the Thai Air Force a leading force in Asean by 2019.
Tanasak and then Air Force commander-in-chief ACM Prajin Juntong co-piloted separate newly-delivered Gripen fighters from Bangkok to Surat Thani. Both Tanasak and Prajin are now serving as deputy prime minister.
Thailand is now the only country in the region with the Swedish planes in its fleet.