Thailand has received its first six of 12 Saab Gripen C/D fighters, following the delivery of the aircraft to an airbase in the southern Surat Thani province. It is the first Asian country to operate the Swedish type.

According to the Royal Thai Air Force's website the aircraft arrived with the service's 7 Wing late on 22 February.

Thailand's initial six-aircraft deal includes two single-seat Gripen Cs and four twin-seat Gripen Ds.

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

Thai Gripen 
 © Royal Thai Air Force


Both orders also include one Saab 340 regional airliner equipped with a Saab Microwave Systems Erieye airborne early warning and control radar. The first deal also included an additional Saab 340 to be used for aircrew training and transport activities.

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.

According to Thai media, the aircraft will be officially handed over to the Royal Thai Air Force next month after completing testing.

Because the first batch of aircraft are technically the property of Sweden until the official handover, Swedish pilots delivered the aircraft. They were flown to Thailand via stops in Hungary, Greece, Egypt and India. However, Thai pilots have already been trained on the aircraft in Sweden.

Thailand joins the Czech Republic, Hungary, South Africa and Sweden in operating the Gripen. The type is also used by the UK Empire Test Pilots' School.

A new generation version dubbed the Gripen NG is also involved in fighter competitions in nations including Brazil, India and Switzerland.

Source: Flight International