Thailand to upgrade its Gripen C/D fighters to latest MS20 standard

Thailand upgrade Gripen MS20
Royal Thai Air Force Gripen C fighters.

In early 2021, the Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) Directorate of Aeronautical Engineering (DAE) announced it had awarded the Swedish Defence Materiel Administration (FMV) a THB631.725 million (USD20.84 million) contract to upgrade the service's Saab JAS-39 Gripen C/D multirole combat aircraft to the latest MS20 standard.

The upgrade will involve all 11 Gripens currently operated by RTAF's Wing 7 at Surat Thani Air Force Base, southern Thailand.

According to Saab, the MS20 upgrade brings a number of improvements. The upgrade greatly enhances Gripen’s ability to engage ground targets by incorporating unguided and laser-guided bombs into the aircraft payload and the air-to-air capability is enhanced by introduction of new radar modes.

Another key element is the integration of the targeting electro-optical pod Litening III, which can be used to guide missiles and bombs, but also in aerial reconnaissance and combat. The upgrade also implements the Alliance datalink - Link 16 - as well as cryptomodules for covert communication.

Thailand will thus become the third nation to boast Gripen at the MS20 standard after Sweden and the Czech Republic.

The Gripens joined the RTAF fleet in 2013 to replace a number of older F-5 jets. To date, they are the most modern fighters in the nation with the fleet likely to expand soon.

Following a pressing request from the RTAF for more Gripen, Bangkok appears to be considering signing a new agreement with Sweden shortly. The new deal could include Gripen C/Ds from the Swedish Air Force fleet upgraded to the MS 20 standard or new Gripen E/Fs. This acquisition would satisfy the armed force's original plan for establishing two Gripen squadrons. Its initial request was for 18 aircraft.

Written by Matteo Sanzani
Photo Credit: FMV

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