Specialised aircraft to be deployed in 2010
By Wassana Nanuam
It took a decade to fulfil its dream, but the air force is now set to equip its fleet with an airborne early warning (AEW) plane, although it will be a second-hand one. The first AEW aircraft built by Saab of Sweden will be deployed in 2010, about a year ahead of delivery of the first batch of Gripen C/D jets, according to an air force source.
The AEW plane comes as part of a 19-billion-baht aircraft procurement package, which includes six Gripen fighters, a used plane for transport and logistic support and training in Sweden for Thai pilots to get familiar with the multi-role Swedish Gripen.
Both the AEW and transport planes are the same model _ the two-engined Saab 340. They have been in operation for about 10 years, but will be refurbished before delivery to Thailand.
President and chief executive officer of Saab Ake Svansson said at the Saab manufacturing base in Linkoping in Sweden last month that Thailand will get a complete early warning system under a contract signed between Sweden and air force chief ACM Chalit Phukphasuk in February.
The AEW is an eye and ear in the sky for air force surveillance and operations. The radar on the aircraft can detect other planes and coordinate with the ground control system to direct fighters to their targets.
Although the AEW aircraft [Thailand will get] is a used one, it is still worthwhile for us to have this kind of technology. It will be a big change in the history of the Thai air force, Air Support commander Sutthirat Kasemsant na Ayutthaya said.
The air forces desire to have an AEW plane started about a decade ago. It planned to modify one of its C-130 transport planes for this purpose in 1997 and 1998 to use with the F-16 fighters and probably the F-18 fighters to be bought from the United States.
But the plan, which required about three million baht for modifications, was shelved due to budgetary problems. The dream of having F-18 jets was also shot down by Washington, which refused to sell them to Thailand.
The AEW aircraft will be the air command to link all ground and air data with pilots in the Gripen jet fighters, according to ACM Sutthirat.
It will boost the capability of the air force in finding targets in the air, ground and sea in the southern region. The Gripen fighters and the AEW plane will be stationed at Wing 7 in Surat Thani.
The air force plans to develop data links with the US-made F-16 and Gripen fighters in the future, he added.
Now the data link with the F-16 jets can only come by radio from a ground station or by pilots making decisions themselves in urgent circumstances.
An air force source said the facilities and maintenance system at the Surat Thani air base will be improved this year to prepare for the arrival of the Gripen jets.
The first three fighters will be delivered in January 2011, and another three will arrive about two months later.
They will replace the F5 B/E jets based in the southern province, which will be decommissioned in 2011.
But some part in this news are wrong.
– Converting C-130 to somthing like EC-130 would definitely costs you more than 3 million baht. It’s should be 3 million USD or something like that.
– The F-18 issues is not true. Because it’s RTAF that asked USMC to buy back the contact for 8 F/A-18C/D due to the budget shortage in Asian Financial Crisis 1997.