Thailand signed a Baht19 billion ($577 million) contract with Sweden's Defence Materiel Administration (FMV) on 11 February, clearing the way for its air force to field an initial batch of six Saab Gripen fighters in early 2011.

Revealing fresh details of the air defence deal last week, the FMV confirmed that the Royal Thai Air Force will receive four single-seat Gripen Cs and two two-seat Gripen Ds under the sale, with the new-build aircraft to replace some of its Northrop F-5 interceptors.

Intended to boost Bangkok's air surveillance capabilities, the order also covers the delivery of one Saab 340 regional airliner to be equipped with a Saab Microwave Systems Erieye airborne early warning and control radar, plus a second 340 to be used for aircrew training and transport activities.

Saab says its stake of the Thai deal is worth $310 million, with the company to also supply datalink equipment for the AEW&C aircraft and Gripens.

"This agreement strengthens our position within the area of airborne surveillance and advanced command and control systems," says Saab chief executive Ake Svensson.

The FMV says all equipment will be delivered to Thailand in the first quarter of 2011, with pilot and technician training to commence in Sweden during 2009.

Discussions on a planned second batch of six Gripen fighters - and potentially also a second AEW&C aircraft - are expected to take place with the next Thai government.

Bangkok's purchase makes it the fifth nation to order the Gripen, joining the Czech Republic, Hungary, South Africa and Sweden.

The Erieye AEW&C system has, meanwhile, previously been purchased by customers including Brazil, Greece, Mexico, Pakistan and Sweden.