Published: 17th October 2007 11:28 CET
Thailand's air force confirmed on Wednesday that the country is preparing to buy six Swedish Gripen fighter planes in a deal worth 3.7 billion kronor ($560 million). Air force chief Chalit Phukphasuk also told reporters that a decision would be made after December's general election on whether to buy a second batch of six Saab Gripens.
A source close to the air force told Reuters that Thailand had initially planned to replace its ageing F-5E fighters with US F-16 Fighting Falcons. But the deal eventually fell through since the Americans were “not allowed by their laws to sell weapons to countries whose governments have been ousted in coups.”
Owe Wagermark, director of communications for Gripen International, was delighted with Wednesday's announcement.
“This is absolutely fantastic. It is an important step with regard to our positioning and is incredibly positive for Gripen. It means that we will retain our position as global leaders,” he told the TT news agency.
Ola Mattsson, secretary general of the Swedish Peace and Arbitration Society (Svenska Freds), was considerable less enthusiastic.
“It should be completely out of the question for Sweden to sell Gripen planes to Thailand. It's a military dictatorship,” he told TT.
Mattsson listed secular tensions in southern Thailand and an arms race in South East Asia as further reasons not to sell.
“The Swedish state shouldn't contribute to a rearmament spiral in the region. Such a move runs contrary to our foreign and security policy,” he said.
Since assuming power in a military coup last year, the Thai government has approved a 66 percent increase in military spending.
Russia's Su-30s were long tipped to get the nod ahead of Gripen and the US F-16s. Prior to being removed from his post, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra is reported to have been close to signing a deal for the Russian fighters.
But last year's military coup would appear to have tipped the balance in Gripen's favour.