Royal Thai Air Force will spend over 13.8 billion THB on new Jets

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Royal Thai Air Force plans to spend 13.8 billion baht to reinforce its aerial power. The strategy is to procure the first four jets in a squadron of new fighters.

The destinated money comes from the military budget for the next four years (2023 to 2026).

Air force chief ACM Napadej Dhupatemiya has previously expressed a strong interest in US-made F-35 stealth jets, remains to be seen whether that will be the make and model chosen for this purchase.

Two committees will be in charge of deciding which models the Royal Thai Air Forse will acquire. Deputy air force chief ACM Thanasak Metanan will head the first committee. The ACM Phanphakdi Phatthanakun, the air force chief of staff, will lead the second committee.

The committee will consider whether these jets are a cost-effective solution in line with the current fight to get the economy back on track after a disastrous few years made worse by the Covid-19 situation, said the source.

Earlier last month, ACM Napadej said F-35s, manufactured by US defense giant Lockheed Martin, would be the best choice because their price has fallen considerably from the initial US$142 million (4.7 billion baht) figure bandied about when they first hit the market. Now, each plane can be had for $82 million, or just over half the earlier asking price.

The air force commander-in-chief also publicly stated that the budget planning for the acquisition of the F-35s will begin in the 2023 fiscal year, which starts in October, and the air force is prepared to answer all questions if it opts to press ahead with the purchase.

Given their technological advantages, the F-35 jets will suit the country’s needs to enhance its airpower, a vital part of modern warfare, he said back in late December.

He said the F-35 jet procurement would be split into two phases of four.

However, despite ACM Napadej’s interest, it will be the committee that has the final say, said the source.

The committee will consider whether these jets are a cost-effective solution in line with the current fight to get the economy back on track after a disastrous few years made worse by the Covid-19 situation, said the source.

ACM Napadej’s talk of prices may well just have been a gamble to see how cheaply Lockheed Martin could be persuaded to sell for, rather than a blueprint of forthcoming air force spending, said the source, adding that there had been no contact with the US manufacturer since.

No one knows whether the US government will approve the sale even if that is the model eventually decided upon by the committee.

Nevertheless, the move would be in line with the air force’s policy to strengthen itself in the face of what it perceives to be worsening regional conflicts.

The completion of this deal is expected to take between seven and 10 years from purchase to final payment.

Currently, the air force has two squadrons of 35-year-old F-16s, which are either stationed at Wing 1 in Nakhon Ratchasima or Wing 4 in Nakhon Sawan.

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