Thailand commences MS20 upgrades for Gripens

by Akhil Kadidal

The MS20 upgrades for the RTAF‘s Gripens is expected to give the force an advantage over combat aircraft in neighbouring countries. (FXM)

Thailand has initiated MS20 configuration upgrades to its fleet of SAAB JAS 39 Gripen C/D multirole combat fighters.

Speaking to Janes , a spokesperson for the Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) said that the “MS20 system improvement plan is currently in progress and the planned improvements are expected to be completed by 2025”.

Janes had earlier reported that the original Thai budget allocation proposal for the project quotes a price of THB631.73 million (USD18.28 million). Sweden's Defence Materiel Administration (Försvarets materielverk – FMV) previously cited a median or reference price of THB629.22 million for phase one of the project.

SAAB declined to comment on the particulars of the upgrade. However, as per information published by the company, the full gamut of the configuration comprises hardware and software upgrades to enhance the aircraft's capabilities for air-to-air, air-to-surface, and intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance (ISTAR) missions. The configuration will also update mission systems.

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Croatia receives first Rafale fighter from France

by Gareth Jennings

The first of 12 Rafales was officially handed over to Croatia on 2 October. (Croatian MoD)

Croatia received the first of 12 Dassault Rafale combat aircraft from France on 2 October, the Croatian Ministry of Defence (MoD) announced.

Aircraft tail number 170 was officially handed over to the Croatian MoD during a ceremony at the French Air and Space Force (Armée de l'Air et de l'Espace: AAE) base at Mont-de-Marsan.

The event, attended by Croatian Defence Minister Mario Banožić and other high-ranking national political and military figures, came some 28 months after Croatia selected in May 2021 for 12 Rafales to replace its ageing MiG-21s. A deal for EUR1.15 billion (USD1.21 billion) was signed in November 2021, with payments to run from 2021 to 2026.

The 12 surplus AAE Rafale aircraft comprise 10 single- and two twin-seaters at the F3-R standard. Further to these aircraft, Croatia is receiving simulators, training, and other support to run through until the final quarter of 2026. Aircraft deliveries are due to be completed in 2025.

The Croatian Air Force and Air Defence (AFAD) intends to operate the Rafale until the early 2050s.

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UK stratospheric HAPS project enters next phase

by Olivia Savage

SNC's HAB will participate in the second phase of the UK's Project Aether. (Sierra Nevada Corporation)

The UK has selected two companies – Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) and Airbus subsidiary AALTO – to compete in the second phase of Project Aether, Janes learnt.

Project Aether is a UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) programme that seeks an unmanned stratospheric ultra-persistent communication and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capability or high altitude platform station (HAPS).

The second phase will see SNC's high altitude balloon (HAB) and AALTO's Zephyr 8 fixed-wing higher than air (HTA) aircraft fly in 2024 for a minimum of 30 days in the North America and Atlantic area, a spokesperson from the Aether programme told Janes on 26 September.

According to the spokesperson, the aim of this phase is to shape the MoD's understanding of what is feasible, and will involve, among other tests, assessing whether HABs can station keep and whether the platforms can be directed to specific locations of interest.

Janes understands the platforms are expected to fly for thousands of miles.

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Australia to retire MRH90 Taipan fleet early

by Akhil Kadidal

The withdrawal of Australia's NHIndustries MRH90s from flight operations increases the burden on other army aviation rotary-wing assets, until adequate numbers of new Sikorsky UH-60Ms can be inducted into service. In this image, an MRH90 from the 5th Aviation Regiment prepares to land behind a CH-47F at Ingham Airport in Queensland in May 2022. (Commonwealth of Australia)

The Australian government is permanently withdrawing its NHIndustries MRH90 ‘Taipan' fleet from flight operations.

The “MRH-90 Taipan helicopters will not return to flying operations before their planned withdrawal date of December 2024”, the Australian Department of Defence (DoD) said on 29 September.

The decision to withdraw the MRH90 fleet is being attributed to the amount of time required to close four separate investigations of the 28 July crash of an MRH90 near Lindeman Island during Exercise ‘Talisman Sabre', according to the DoD and Australian Defence Minister Richard Marles.

“As the government made clear at the time, [the army] would not fly this platform until investigations into that incident were complete,” the DoD said. “The advice provided to [the] government has outlined [that] these ongoing investigations are likely to continue well into 2024.”

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