Saab Positions Gripen E for Thailand’s New Fighter Acquisition

the Gripen E
Thailand already operates the Gripen C/D and Erieye, but the Gripen E is now being touted for the country’s future fighter fleet. (Gordon Arthur)

The Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) released a request for proposals (RFP) in October for new fighters. Two of the frontrunners are Saab’s Gripen and Lockheed Martin’s F-16. Although the latter was unwilling to speak to media at Defense & Security 2023 in Bangkok, Saab executives were able to highlight the suitability of the latest Gripen E fighter.

Robert Bjorklund, Gripen sales executive in Saab’s Business Area Aeronautics, estimated the RTAF would want 12-16 new fighters by 2028 to replace older F-16s that are due for retirement.

With the RTAF’s ambition for F-35A fifth-generation fighters soundly knocked back by the US, both the Gripen and F-16V are strong 4.5-Generation contenders given that the air force is familiar with both fighter families.

Bjorklund pointed out that the Gripen E can build upon the RTAF’s current Gripen infrastructure and its concept of operations. Wing 7 operates Gripens from Surat Thani Air Base. The Gripen E is also easy to upgrade in the future, since its critical and tactical systems are separated. Improvements to the latter would not affect the former.

Last year, Saab and the Swedish Defence Materiel Administration (FMV) began a programme to upgrade the RTAF’s Gripen C/D fleet with the MS20 upgrade. This work has been completed, and it extends the aircraft’s life and tactical capability.

The RTAF also has two Saab 340 Erieye airborne early warning (AEW) aircraft. The air force does not have an intention to expand the fleet, but an upgrade is certainly a possibility.

Anders Wanner, senior sales director, Marketing & Sales Radar Solutions, of Saab’s Business Area Surveillance, said this would involve updating both the hardware and software on the AEW aircraft, such as a new radar and antenna. This would add to its maritime monitoring abilities.

While the latest F-16s and Gripens have the strongest pedigree to join the RTAF in the future, Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) is also keen to add its name to the mix. A KAI spokesperson told Asian Military Review that either the FA-50 or KF-21 would be suitable for Thailand.

Incidentally, AVIC displayed scale models of J-10CE and J-31 fighters at Defense & Security 2023. However, a Chinese platform is not really an option for Thailand given that these could not interoperate with the RTAF’s existing Western fighters.

by Gordon Arthur