Air force likely to opt for Swedish jet fighter Multi-role Gripen favoured over SU-30
The air force is set to abandon its preference for Russia's giant, fuel-hungry SU-30 fighters in favour of Sweden's lightweight, multi-role JAS-39 Gripen, a source said yesterday. Purchase of the SU-30 jets was seen as close to a done deal under the ousted Thaksin Shinawatra government.
[b]The cabinet is willing to allow the force to buy six of the 12 jets it has requested over the next five years,[b] the source said. Only after five years will the air force be able to consider buying the rest of the squadron.
The deal would be financed with tied-over fund spreading over five years.
The air force had earlier been upset that its 34-billion baht plan to buy 12 new fighters to replace its ageing fleet had not been considered by the cabinet.
The cabinet cited recommendations by a screening committee that purchasing all 12 jets in one batch would be too big a burden over five years.
The screening panel, chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Paiboon Wattanasiritham, had returned the procurement proposal to the air force and attached a suggestion that the tied-over procurement be extended to 10 years.
The panel, however, did not say anything about halving the squadron.
The source said the cabinet yesterday agreed the air force should buy six jets first, using a five-year tied-over budget starting next year.
The source said the air force selection panel favoured the JAS-39 Gripen to replace its old F-16 and F-5 fighters as the Swedish jets fit its requirements.
Last week, air force chief ACM Chalit Phukphasuk said the air force had not yet decided on the type of aircraft.
The force is reportedly hoping for a fast replacement of its present squadron of fighters, which have been in use for over 30 years and are due to be decommissioned next year.
ACM Chalit, also deputy chief of the Council for National Security, said the air force was considering several options, including F-16s and F-18s from the US, the SU-30 from Russia, the Dassault Rafale from France and the JAS-39 Gripen from Sweden.
The air force was under great pressure from the Thaksin government to purchase the Russian SU-30, even though the air chiefs felt it was too big.
The Thaksin government had been keen to barter farm produce, mainly chickens, for the fighters.
In the region, the SU-30 has been bought by China, Malaysia, India and Indonesia
General F-16 News
Royal Thai Air Force takes Jatukham amulets on board
July 9, 2007 (by Lieven Dewitte) - The craziness about Jatukham amulets is literally taking new heights as the RTAF is taking some much-sought-after amulets on routine flights on F-16 fighters in the hope of boosting their supernatural powers and market value.
Jatukham Rammathep is the name of an unusually popular amulet sold by some Buddhist temples in Thailand. The amulet is named for two princes of the Krung Srivijaya kingdom of southern Thailand, and is believed to provide protection and good fortune to the bearer.
Air Chief Marshal Paisal Sitabutr, the Air Force's deputy commander, could not explain the logic behind his reasoning but maintained the F-16's and F-5's supersonic speed would quicken one's good fortune, protection and prosperity. The unprecedented height would make the amulets stand out above the rest, literally and figuratively.
The fact that such a "dignified" institution as the Air Force was behind the making of this series of amulets would boost its reputation and sales, according to Paiasl. To mix business with amulets and the military seems so natural now in Thailand...
On Monday, the Air Force organised incantation rites for its amulets in Prachuab Khiri Khan. Paisal said the Air Force decided to join the Jatukham Rammathep fever because it wanted to collect huge sums of money for renovation of Wat Mahathat in Bangkok and the twin pagodas, Phra Mahathat Napha Methanidon and Phra Mahathat Naphaphon Phumisiri, on Doi Inthanon in Chiang Mai.
The renovation projects costing about Bt100 million are to commemorate the 80th birthday of His Majesty the King in December, he said.
Paisal saw nothing wrong in the Air Force generating money by producing amulets and using the fighter jets in the incantation.
"Nowadays, what else can be done to generate huge money better than Jatukham?" he said. "We have fighters that fly regularly. We just asked the pilots to take the materials [to produce the amulets] with them. We did not hold any special flights for this thing," he said.
Since last year, Jatukham fever has spread throughout the country, grabbing the attention of celebrities, politicians and ordinary people.
The Kasikorn Research Centre estimated that from late last year more than Bt20 billion had been generated by the Jatukham craze. The Revenue Department was considering whether to tax enterprises related to the soaring sales of Jatukham items.