The Royal Thai Air Force on Thursday 10 September celebrated 5,000 hours of flying the Saab JAS39 Gripen. The aircraft has been in Thai service for well over four years now, operated by 701st squadron ‘Sharks’, part of the 7th wing at Surat Thani airbase.
The Thai Gripen deal was signed in 2008. The first of twelve JAS39C/D Gripens were flown to Thailand in February 2011, with the last arriving two years later. Thailand is the only Asian country operating the Saab jet. Other Gripen operators are Sweden, the Czech Republic, Hungary, South Africa and, starting 2019, Brazil.
The Royal Thai Air Force is retiring its three remaining Israeli Aircraft Industries Arava light patrol aircraft, according to the Air Force Commander in the Bangkok Post. The military is now opting to create two squadrons of drones in stead, boosting its surveillance capability.
The IAI 201 Arava’s have served Thailand for more than 36 years, currently flying as ELINT aircraft with 402 Squadron based at Takhli. Between 1972 and 1998 the Israelis built 103 of these light Short Take-off and Landing (STOL) aircraft. Despite its small size it can transport 24 combat-ready troops in the transport role, as a surveillance platform it is a very affordable asset with low usage costs.
The Israeli Air Force retired its Aravas already in 2004.
Lion Effort 2015 officialy kicked off today at Čáslav airbase in the Czech Republic. Pilots from the locally based 211. taktické letky(tactical squadron),along with colleagues from Sweden and Hungary, are getting a grip on the aircraft they all fly: the Saab JAS 39 Gripen. For the next two weeks, packages of Gripens conduct air-to-air training and exchange tactics, techniques and procedures that allow them to operate alongside each other.
Taking part are six Czech Gripens, five Hungarian Gripens and no less than 11 Swedish Gripens. Supporting Lion Effort 2015 are Czech L-159 light attack jets, Mi-17 Hip and Mi-24 Hind helicopters, plus a Casa 295 transport aircraft. Acting as opponents are Polish F-16s operating from their home base of Łask, and German Eurofighter Typhoons flying from Lechfeld in Germany.
The 2012 edition of tri-annual exercise Lion Effort saw even the South African Air Force (SAAF) taking part, since at the same time the last batch of South African Gripens came rolling off the Saab production line in Linköping, Sweden. This time, the SAAF choose to stay home. A delegation from Thailand – another Saab Gripen user – is present however, acting as observers.
“It is an honour for the Czech Air Force to host this year’s Lion Effort which also marks ten year anniversary of flying the JAS-39 Gripen in our air forces,” says Czech Air Force commander Brigadier General Libor Štefánik. “Having NATO allies and partner nations flying together is a great opportunity. The air and ground crews will learn from each other and further improve their interoperability.”
Saab itself is not represented at Čáslav and neither is the Força Aérea Brasileira. A delegation from Brazil would not have been strange at all, since the country is to receive the new Saab Gripen E/F in the not too distant future and Brazilians are already flying the Gripen in Sweden. There’s always next time, in 2018.
UPDATED 28 APRIL 2015 | The strong earthquake that hit Nepal on 25 April 2015, with 7.8 on the Richter scale the country’s strongest in 80 years, has had nations scramble their resources to come to the rescue of the Himalayan state. Several countries have put part of their air forces on alert to dispatch aid and rescue / recovery teams to the areas hit.
As expected other Asian nations have responded fairly fast. According to sources in New Delhi the Indian Air Force have directed a pair of its ten Boeing C-17A Globemaster IIIs strategic airlifters to the rescue / recovery / repatriation effort, as well as a Lockheed Martin C-130J Hercules, an Ilyushin IL-76 and a pair of Mil Mi-17 helicopters. The Republic of Singapore Air Force is sending three of its ten Hercules aircraft; the Pakistan Air Force sent four of its 18 C-130s and the Royal Thai Air Force committed Hercs as well. Qatar dispatched two civilian Qatar Airways Cargo Airbus A330 to Kathmandu. China sent its rescue team on an Air China Airbus A330.
Sweden initially committed a team of 72 men and women plus 12 dogs to help Nepalese authorities in the search for survivors and recovery efforts, but later decided to send 30 people and no dogs on board a civilian freighter. The team has enough supplies and essentials to be self-sufficient for two weeks and left Örebro Airport in the centre of the country at around 21:20 local time on Monday 27 April. Earlier it was thought that the bigger team would go on one of the EU/NATO’s three C-17A Globmasters based at Papa Airbase in Hungary. Sweden is one of the main users of this small pool of European airlift.
The Netherlands sent a Urban Search and Rescue team of 62 men/women and 8 dogs to the area, using a Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) KDC-10. The team will depart the Netherlands on Sunday evening. Five tonnes of aid accompanies the team on board the RNLAF aircraft. The UK is sending a C-17 Globemaster and C-130 Hercules, while the US has ordered a C-17 with 70 disaster assistance personnel and 45 square tonnes of cargo to the region.
Nepal Army Air Wing
The resources of Nepal itself are spread thin. The Nepal Army Air Wing only has a few air assets available. The fixed wing fleet consists of two Antonov AN-28 light transport aircraft, a Britten Norman BN-2 Islander utility aircraft and a Hawker Siddeley HS 748 transport aircraft.
A quartet of Indian-made HAL Dhruv, four Alouette IIIs and five Mil Mi-17 “Hip” make up the mainstay of the rotary wing. It is complemented by a Eurocopter (Airbus Helicotpers) AS350 Écureuil and two Aérospatiale SA315 Alouette IIs/Lamas. A bigger Eurocopter (Airbus Helicopters) AS332 Puma is configured for VIP flights. The Nepal Army has only one main base of operations, part of Kathmandu Airport, but there are at least 36 airfields spread across the country that can be used for air operations.
It is not known if and how many aircraft in Nepal have been damaged by the earthquake. Private rotary wing is available as well, but we have no numbers at this time.
In two months time, the Saab JAS 39 Gripen will roar during Lion Effort 2015 at Čáslav airbase in the Czech Republic. Taking part will be C and D model Gripens from the Czech Republic, Sweden and Hungary, while Thailand participates without aircraft. South Africa, present with its own aircraft during Lion Effort 2012 in Sweden, will not participate at all.
As Airheadsfly.com found out a year ago, Čáslav is already a Gripen’s lair, with all fourteen Czech Air Force aircraft based here. The Hungarian Air Force is sending aircraft from their base in Kecskemét and Sweden will send Gripen from one of its bases in Såtenäs, Ronneby or Luleå. The tri-annual exercise starts 11 May.
During Lion Effort 2012, Saab Gripens were practically the sole ingredient of the exercise. This time, there is more variety with German Eurofighter Typhoons and Polish Lockheed Martin F-16s also taking part, albeit from their respective home bases. Czech Air Force will L-159 ALCA from Čáslav will also play along, together with Mil Mi-17 Hip and Mil Mi-24 Hind helicopters from 22nd Helicopter Base Náměšt nad Oslavou and CASA C-295 from 24th Transport Air Base Kbely. Cooperation with foreign tanker aircraft is also being discussed.
Lion Effort 2015 therefore is the biggest flying exercise in the area this year, and is actually taking its toll on other well known military flying exercises such as NATO’s Tiger Meet, held this year at Konya airbase in Turkey. Both the Czech and Hungarian Gripen squadrons are members of NATO’s Tiger Association, but prefer to take part in Lion Effort 2015 over the Tiger Meet.
Busy The Czech Republic is looking to extend the role of its Gripens with an air-to-ground capability. Recently, the country ordered Litening III targeting pods. In 2014, the Czech Gripens were kept rather busy with guarding Icelandic skies. The Czech lease their Gripens from Sweden at an annual cost of about 58 million USD. Last year, Czech Air Force boss Libor Stefanik stated he would like to see six more Gripens leased, possibly for future cooperation with neighbouring Slovakia, which is also eying Saab Gripens.
The chance of seeing participating aircraft in Lion Effort 2015 from up close occurs on Thursday 14 May during an enthusiast’s day at Čáslav, or on Saturday 23 May during an all out airshow, which also serves to commemorate ten years of Saab Gripen service in the Czech Republic.