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RTAF Continues to Weigh New Fighter Aircraft Options Between the US F-16 Block 70/72 or the Swedish Gripen E/F | Mio Kitchen

07 Juli 2024

Details of the Swedish offer it might include grants for pilot training, aircraft maintenance, and potential upgrades to Thailand’s existing Saab 340 early warning aircraft (image: WMD)

The basic list price of an F-16 is $63 million, compared with $85 million for the Gripen. That does not include expenses related to development, maintenance and other associated costs. 

The Royal Thai Air Force’s (RTAF) quest for a new fighter strike aircraft appears to be heating up, with media reports reporting progress on the requirement for around a dozen new fighters. 

Recent reports from Thailand indicate that US companies Lockheed Martin and Sweden’s Saab are moving ahead with their fighter jets to boost their long-term demand to replace their ageing fleet of Lockheed Martin F-16A/B fighters at Korat Air Force Base.

According to the Bangkok Post, citing Thai Defense Minister Suthin Klangsaeng, US Ambassador to Thailand Robert Godec has proposed to the Thai government in Bangkok. Regarding the opportunity to procure US F-16 fighter jets through a loan in the form of financial assistance to friendly countries, Foreign Military Financing (FMF).

Purchasing fighter jets through loans would allow for a larger number of aircraft to be procured, but Thai Defence Minister Suthin Khlangsaeng has been quoted as saying the interest rate (4.5 per cent per annum for 12 years) is “too high”.

The Royal Thai Air Force has been considering the US F-16C/D Block 70/72 fighter jet for some time now, but the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) has yet to issue a Foreign Military Sales (FMS) approval for the possibility of such a deal.

Sweden’s Saab is also making an attractive offer for the Royal Thai Air Force’s new fighter jet requirements by offering the Gripen E/F fighter jet to compete. Reports from mid-June 2024 indicate that Saab hosted Thai media and Thai Ministry of Defence and Royal Thai Armed Forces officials to visit its headquarters in Stockholm, Sweden.

The Royal Thai Air Force has experience operating both the F-16A/B Block 15 OCU, F-16A/B ADF and F-16A/B EMLU fighter aircraft and the Saab Gripen C/D fighter aircraft.

According to Cirium fleets data, the Royal Thai Air Force has 47 F-16A/B Block 15 OCU and F-16A/B ADF fighters in Squadron 103, Wing 1, and 47 F-16A/B EMLU fighters in Squadron 403, Wing 4, Takhli, with an average service life of 34.3 years.

The RTAF also has the Gripen C/D fighter aircraft of Squadron 701, Wing 7, Surat Thani, totaling 11 aircraft (divided into 7 Gripen C single-seat fighter aircraft and 4 Gripen D two-seat fighter aircraft), with an average service life of 12.5 years.

In March 2024, the Royal Thai Air Force White Paper 2024 (RTAF White Paper 2024) outlined the requirements for various new aircraft, but it was noted that there had been a lack of progress since the RTAF White Paper 2020.

The RTAF White Paper 2024 has called for the replacement of the F-16A/B ADF fighter aircraft of Squadron 102, Wing 1, some of which were transferred to Squadron 103 from 2021. In contrast to the RTAF White Paper 2020 which calls for 12 new strike fighters to be procured in Fiscal Year FY2023-2028.

The RTAF White Paper 2024 calls for a delay in the procurement timeframe for 12-14 new fighter jets to replace the F-16A/B ADF Squadron 102 to Fiscal Year FY2025-2034.

The Royal Thai Air Force hopes to get the Thai government’s approval of the budget for the first phase of the procurement of four new fighter jets, worth approximately 19.5 billion baht ($533,414,310) in fiscal year 2025, which will begin on October 1, 2024.


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