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PICTURE: Thai Gripens begin operational flights

Saab Gripens have begun operational flights from Surat Thani air base in southern Thailand, following their delivery in February.

On 15 March a two-seat Gripen D flew the first flight with a Royal Thai Air Force pilot at the controls and a Swedish air force pilot in the back seat, says Saab. The aircraft will see service with 7 Wing in Surat Thani province.

© Swedish armed forces

Bangkok's eventual 12-strong fleet was purchased in two separate deals of six aircraft each. The first was signed in early 2008. The second, which covers six single-seat Gripen Cs, was signed in late 2010.

Each deal also includes a Saab 340 regional airliner equipped with a Saab Microwave Systems Erieye airborne early warning and control radar, while the first also covered an additional Saab 340 for aircrew training and transport activities. Also to be supplied is a command and control system.

"The six Gripen fighters are part of an inter-governmental business transaction where FMV, the Swedish Defence Materiel Administration, representing the government of Sweden, supplies an integrated air-defence system based on products manufactured by Saab," says the company.

Last year's order also includes the provision of Saab's RB15F anti-ship missile; a subsonic, sea-skimming design with a maximum range of over 108nm (200km).

The second batch of Gripens is due to arrive in 2013. The aircraft will replace some of Thailand's Northrop F-5s.

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