Air force readies to go digital
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Air force readies to go digital

The Royal Thai Air Force is aiming for the skies in introducing a "digital air force" with the use of advanced technology and modern weaponry including jet fighters as part of a plan to upgrade air systems.

Under the plan, initiated by RTAF commander ACM Treetod Sonjance, Wing 7 in Surat Thani is to be upgraded and, with a network-centric system, will perform as an operation centre or "big shell",  that digitally connects to the other RTAF strategic locations including Don Muang air base, radar stations across the country as well as the navy's warships and aircraft carriers, with the Saab340 AEW-Airborne Early Warning aircraft serving as an air command.

Gripen are the most advanced jet fighters of the air force. There are reports the RTAF has a plan to purchase another four Gripen to complete its squadron at Wing 7. The additional fighters should help make the squadron live up to its nickname "Ferocious Shark of the Andaman".

The upgrade plan is crucial as the RTAF has taken a leading role in improving civil air operation standards as required by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), which in June red-flagged Thailand for aviation safety deficiencies.

The country is required to improve air safety standards to have the red flag removed.

Sources said ACM Treetod wants to turn the civil aviation crisis into an opportunity given heightened awareness over the country's air safety record both in the civil agency and the air force.

For the RTAF, he wishes to streamline air safety standards for every air division.

Wing 7, also known as the House of Gripen, will become a prototype of advanced air systems, in line with the wishes of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). It will also standardise air manuals for the whole air force.

Apart from the hardware improvements, ACM Treetod has made manpower development a priority.

The commander has ordered a revamp of personnel management at the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand to heighten the agency's efficiency.

During a recent inspection visit to Surat Thani-based Wing 7, ACM Treetod met air force officers at all levels. His easy, down-to-earth personality encouraged subordinates to open up.

The air commander said the RTAF faces a brain drain crisis, as many experienced pilots and mechanics have left for commercial airlines which offer better salaries and remuneration.

He acknowledged the skill shortage is a common problem for air forces around the world.

He said the only way to keep manpower in the air force longer is to instil organisational loyalty in RTAF personnel, making them proud to serve. At the same time, there is a need to improve welfare to boost their morale.

Some air force officers, however, said they stay with the air force because, despite meagre salaries, because they can spend more time with their families.

A quick way to tackle the personnel shortage is to accept women pilots into the RTAF to help make up for the shortage of male pilots, he said. The air force is likely to accept the first batch of women pilots this year. Eligible applicants are BA graduates who receive pilot training. Successful candidates will be trained to fly transport aircraft and helicopters at Wing 6 air force headquarters in Don Muang and also at Wing 2 in Lop Buri.

New women pilots will begin their careers by flying transport aircraft. In summary, ACM Treetod said personnel are no less important than technology. "Personnel are like gems to the RTAF," he said.

Wassana Nanuam is a senior news reporter covering military affairs for the Bangkok Post.

Wassana Nanuam

Senior news reporter

Wassana Nanuam is a senior news reporter covering military affairs for the Bangkok Post.

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