Sweden’s sale of fighter jets to Thailand generates controversy

 International Herald Tribune

By Ivar Ekman

Published: October 18, 2007

STOCKHOLM: Thailand has announced that it would purchase six Swedish-made jet fighters, with an option to buy another six, generating both relief and skepticism here.

The deal for the six Gripen-JAS 39C/D multi-role fighters, valued at 3.7 billion kronor, or $600 million, was a long-awaited boost to the efforts by the Swedish government, and the airplane maker Saab, to market the plane internationally. Previously, Gripen fighters have been sold to South Africa and leased to the Czech Republic and Hungary.

Peter Larsson, a spokesman for Saab, said that the deal, announced on Wednesday, was “very welcome.” Saab is one among several companies bidding for a contract to sell 126 jet fighters to India, and Larsson said that the Thai deal was especially positive “as a signal that we now are established in Asia.”

The Swedish foreign minister, Carl Bildt, said in a statement that “this decision once again confirms that Gripen is a world class and cost-effective system.”

But the announcement also drew heavy criticism, mainly because Thailand has been ruled by a military junta since a coup in September, 2006.

“Thailand is a military dictatorship, and Sweden has no business selling weapons to military dictatorships,” said Ola Mattson, secretary general of the Swedish Peace and Arbitration Society.

Larsson of Saab said that Thailand was “on the path back to becoming a democracy,” and that elections had been announced for Dec. 23 by the military rulers.

Another point of contention is Sweden’s role as a major manufacturer of arms, as well as a high-profile dove in international affairs. This is a double role that observers say has become much more difficult in the past few years.

During the Cold War, Sweden built up a strong domestic defense industry in order for its neutrality policy – Sweden stood outside both NATO and the Warsaw Pact – to be credible, said Jan Joel Andersson, program director at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs. But after communism collapsed, an industry which had primarily supplied the Swedish military has become much more dependent on exports.

“It has become a tough balancing act to at once hail peace and peaceful development, and at the same time export arms,” he said.

Others put it more bluntly.

“It’s simply not credible,” Mattsson said, pointing to how Sweden is pushing for tougher regulations in a new arms trade treaty currently being negotiated in the UN. “You can’t one day say that it’s important to build peace, and the next do all you can to sell high-tech weapons.”

Sweden’s sale of fighter jets to Thailand generates controversy – International Herald Tribune


Thailand to buy 12 Swedish jet fighters for one billion dollars


An undated handout filephoto of a Swedish fighter jet JAS 39 Gripen. Thailand will purchase 12 Swedish-made jet fighters over the next decade for 34.4 billion baht (one billion dollars), the head of the air force said Wednesday.



BANGKOK (AFP) — Thailand will purchase 12 Swedish-made jet fighters over the next decade for 34.4 billion baht (one billion dollars), the head of the air force said Wednesday.

The first lot of six JAS-39 Gripen fighters will be bought by 2011, with a second lot of six jets purchased by 2017, air force chief Chalit Phukphasuk told reporters.

The Gripens, manufactured by Sweden’s Saab, will replace ageing American F-5E fighters, which will be rotated out of service in 2011, he added.

“It is necessary to purchase the new jet fighters to replace the retiring fighters, to boost the air force’s ability to protect the country,” he said.

Thailand had considered US-made F-16s and Russian SU-30s before settling on the Swedish jets, Chalit said.

The deal includes spare parts and training for Thai pilots, with the first order valued at 19 billion baht, and the second half at 15.4 billion baht, he said.

In addition to heading the air force, Chalit has also taken over the leadership of the junta that seized power in a bloodless coup toppling prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra in September 2006.

The coup leader, General Sonthi Boonyaratglin, retired last month and has joined the government as a deputy prime minister.

Since the takeover, military spending has skyrocketed to 140 billion baht in the budget for 2008, up from 29 billion baht the year before the coup.

The jet purchase had been in the works under Thaksin’s government but was repeatedly held up by budget constraints. Thaksin had tried to work a deal to barter chickens or rice for the planes, but to no avail.

Now the military is on a shopping spree, ordering 96 Ukrainian armoured vehicles for 133 million dollars in August and looking at weapons from Israel.

The military has justified the burst of spending by arguing that Thai forces have been using equipment that dates to the Vietnam War, and that defense spending has been on hold since the 1997 Asian financial crisis.



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