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Thai pilots itching to fly latest fighter jets
[February 23, 2011]

Thai pilots itching to fly latest fighter jets

BANGKOK, Feb 23, 2011 (The Nation - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- After a long wait for the much-heralded Swedish-made Gripen jet fighters to be commissioned, Royal Thai Air Force pilots are now itching to fly the new aircraft that will replace vintage F-5 fighters.

The Gripen, with the designated code of JAS-39 C/D, has technological advantages 30 years ahead of even the US-made F-16 fighters, the newest aircraft in the RTAF, according to Wing Cmdr Natthawut Duangsoongnern.

One of six pilots who underwent the basic flight course on the Gripen, Natthawut said: "The RTAF's addition of Gripen is a significant addition to air power in the region." With full use of its support systems, including weaponry and air defence, Gripen is regarded as a fighter of the future, said Natthawut, who with five other pilots was selected from more than 20 with F-5 and F-16 flying experience.

Wing Cmdr Jakkrit Thammawichai is commander of Wing 701 in Surat Thani where the first six Gripen will be stationed. He said another six Gripen jets and their support systems would be handed to Thailand later.

Four of the fighters are two-seaters for training, while the other eight, the C model, are one-seaters.The RTAF purchase of Gripens provides not only the fighter jets, but also an entire support system that includes technology transfer and scholarship and supplementary training in advanced technology.

With real-time data links through encryption among all jets, the Gripen is superior to other fighters that have equivalent technology, meaning that the Gripen can fight or defeat enemy fighters at a ratio of one to four, or even one to eight.

"This well explains why we don't need to employ them in large numbers," he said.

Unlike deployment of mainly US-made fighters, in which technology regarding electronics warfare has been classified, Gripen offers open training including electronic countermeasures.

"This means we can stand on our own in terms of mastering difficult and advanced technologies. This is a great leap forward for the RTAF," he said.

The six pilots will train another four after they fully complete entire courses.

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