Air force develops hybrid jets
'Gripen-Thai' planes 'will save on costs'
The Royal Thai Air Force has successfully merged Gripen fighter jet technology into its upgrade of two ageing aircraft to make hybrid Gripen-Thai fighter jets.
Under its long-term plan to acquire new weaponry, the air force is determined not to depend solely on purchases from foreign countries but rebuild or carry out face-lifts of old aircraft.
"We indeed want to add a fleet of Swedish-made Gripen to our existing 12 fighter jets, but we just don't have a large enough budget," air force chief Maanat Wongwat admitted, referring to an initiative to give a fresh look to 14 F5 TH aircraft, in service for between 30 and 40 years.
Under the plan, their upgrade is expected to be completed in 2022 at a cost of 5.2 billion baht.
Two planes were recently rebuilt and tests have been satisfactory, he said.
They still have the same body with "Thai soul" in them, said ACM Maanat, who conducted one test himself by flying a plane from Ubon Ratchathani-based 21st Wing to the 6th Wing near Don Mueang airport.
The air force commander was referring to the ideas and efforts Thai officers have put into remaking the aircraft.
"We add the weapons we want and make new planes under international standards," ACM Maanat said.
The planes, equipped with German IRIS-T and Israeli Python 4 missiles, Italian radar and smart bombs, can work just as well as Gripen 39 C/D fighter jets, he said.
"This is a historic step by the Thai air force which wants to be more self-reliant," ACM Maanat said.
Following the success, the air force is planning to further upgrade its 14 Alpha jets, which have been used for 20 years, with a budget of 3.3 billion baht.
ACM Maanat expects his engineers to fully master plane-rebuilding skills by 2037.
Asked whether Thailand will assemble fighter jets completely from that year, the air force chief said, "Building a whole aircraft is costly. We have to calculate if it's worth the investment".