Thailand is set to go ahead with mid-life upgrades for some of its Lockheed Martin F-16A/Bs, in a move that will augment its air combat capabilities in the face of ongoing budget constraints.

The $700 million upgrade programme that Bangkok has requested for 18 of its F-16s will be conducted in three phases. Six will be modified over a three-year period in each phase, with the individual phases overlapping by one year. Lockheed is the prime contractor, says the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency in its notification to Congress.

The mid-life upgrade with modular mission computer programme includes a Northrop Grumman APG-68(V)9 radar, BAE Systems APX-113 combined interrogator and transponder, Terma ALQ-213 electronic warfare management system and BAE ALE-47 countermeasures dispenser system.

Thai F-16s
 © Australian DoD

It will also incorporate spare and repair parts, support equipment, personnel training and logistics support, the DSCA says.

Bangkok completed a Falcon Up modernisation programme for 57 F-16s in February 2009, while the first of its aircraft to go through the separate Falcon Star upgrade was delivered in 2008.

"Thailand needs this MLU programme to upgrade its ageing F-16 fleet and to increase air sovereignty fighter aircraft effectiveness and interoperability with US forces," says the DSCA. "The proposed sale will enhance the Royal Thai Air Force's capability to conduct day, night and adverse weather air defence operations."

In January, Thailand's cabinet gave in-principle approval to order six more Saab Gripen fighters and one more Saab 340-based airborne early warning and control system from Sweden. Its air force already has six Gripen C/Ds and one AEW&C aircraft on order, and had always intended to double this through a subsequent deal after its original order was split in two in 2008 because of tight budgetary constraints.

The Thai cabinet has said that it will ensure that there are sufficient funds in the next budget for the air force to sign both contracts. However, it is unlikely to upgrade its remaining F-16s or order additional Gripens in the foreseeable future, say sources.

Source: Flight International