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Data Link Key To Future Thai Air Force Procurements

Source : Aviation Week Network


Network-centric capability is the Thai air force’s top goal, making Link-T, Thailand’s indigenously developed data link, the potential linchpin for defense companies hoping to win contracts.

Avia Saab Technologies, a joint venture between Thai company Savia Satcom and Swedish company Saab, developed Link-T. It was born out of what Thai air force Air Chief Marshal Prajin Juntong refers to as “The Gripen Project.”

Thailand has ordered 12 Saab JAS 39 Gripens in two separate batches of six, and plans to order more. Nine have been delivered to Thailand so far. Juntong says the final three on order will be delivered at the end of August or early September.

“The idea is to order more Gripens, but we don’t know when to put the proposal to government,” Juntong says in response to a question from Aviation Week on when the air force plans to order a third batch. He says the Thai air force needs to have 16 to 18 aircraft to form a squadron.

This implies that the air force’s next move will be to order six more, enough to form a squadron. But there is always the possibility the air force will lobby the government to approve an order for 12. That would mean the air force would not only have enough to form a squadron, but have the beginnings of a second Gripen squadron.

The Swedish fighter is Thailand’s replacement for the Northrop F-5, of which the Thai air force has 37, according to the Aviation Week Intelligence Network database. The air force’s current fleet of Gripens is based at Surat Thani AB in southern Thailand overlooking the South China Sea.

Link-T has been four years in development. The data link is installed on four of the air force’s Dassault/Breguet/Dornier AlphaJet A jet trainers, which having been using Link-T communications for air-to-ground missions. The next phase is for Link-T to be installed on the air force’s Gripens and two Saab Erieyes, so that the aircraft can communicate with each other and with the air force’s ground control stations. The air force also plans to use Link-T to communicate with Thai navy ships, Juntong says. The plan is for the Thai army, navy, air force and the country’s command-and-control system to all be interconnected using Link-T.

Having the air force’s Gripens communicating directly with the navy’s ships is an entirely new capability for the air force. Juntong says the reason the Thai air force has never had any aircraft participate in the “Eye In The Sky” program is because none of its aircraft could communicate directly with the navy’s ships. Eye In The Sky is a joint initiative between the Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand to jointly patrol and monitor the Straits of Malacca in the fight against piracy. Juntong says he will propose to the government that the Gripens be allowed to participate in the Eye In The Sky program from next year onward.

Juntong says the advantage of Link-T is that the three armed services and defense command can better coordinate and work together.

Thailand also has control of the encryption behind Link-T, something it does not have with Link 16, the data link in the Thai air force’s Lockheed Martin F-16s. It is important for Thailand to have its own locally developed data link and have control of the encryption code, Juntong says.

Link-T will soon be on the Thai air force’s F-16s as well. The air force has signed a contract to perform a mid-life update (MLU) of 18 of its F-16s, and these upgraded aircraft will have Link-T installed, Juntong says.

“The issue we have been discussing with the U.S. is whether our upgraded F-16s can have both Link-T and Link 16. This has been the main issue.” He says both sides have reached an in-principal agreement whereby the Thai air force F-16s are permitted to have both data links, but there are three preconditions: Thailand has to secure “agreement from all the countries that use Link 16,” and gain approval from “the U.S. security agency and U.S. Congress.”

The MLU is being conducted on the 18 F-16s in three batches of six for the periods 2011-2013, 2013-2015 and 2015-2017, Juntong says.

Reprinted from Aviation Week Network Online 2013 with permission of Aviation Week. Copyright 2013. All rights reserved.

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