The Royal Thai Air Force plans to procure eight F-35 stealth fighters to replace its ageing fleet of combat aircraft, however clearance to buy the jets is a matter for the U.S. government, a senior executive from Lockheed Martin said recently.
According to service commander-in-chief Napadej Dhupatemiya, acquiring F-35 jets is necessary to update Thailand’s current F-5 and F-16 aircraft, which have been in use for more than 30 years.
Thailand’s currently has 12 JAS-39 Gripen fighter jets made by Sweden’s Saab and dozens of American F-16 and F-5 jets, some of which have been in operation since the late 1980s.
Napadej last month expressed a preference for the stealthy, fifth-generation F-35 because its price had fallen since it first hit the market.
Speaking at the Singapore Airshow, Tim Cahill, Lockheed Martin’s senior vice president for Global Business, confirmed Thailand had expressed interest, but said there was “nothing official that I am aware of that has come relative to that.”
In January, the Thailand’s air force set aside about $413 million for procuring four of the jets. “The cabinet has agreed the budget for a four-year period starting in the 2023 fiscal year, to replace some of the country’s ageing F-16 jets”, air force spokesman Air Vice Marshal Prapas Sornchaidee told reporters.
However traditionally the United States has allowed only it’s closest allies to purchase advanced military technology such as the F-35, which is one of the world’s most advanced fighter aircraft, “This will be a U.S. government policy decision,” Cahill said. “I think there is some promise there, but I honestly don’t know where the U.S. government will come down on that.”
Developed by American aerospace firm Lockheed Martin, the F-35 combat fighter is a fifth-generation fighter deployed with the US Air Force. It is a versatile, high-performance, multi-role aircraft combining stealth, sensor fusion, and improved situational awareness.
The fighter is equipped with an advanced sensor package designed to gather, collate, and distribute more information than other fighters, providing pilots with a decisive combat advantage.
Traveling at a speed of over Mach 1.6 (1,200 miles per hour), it has a range of up to 1,200 nautical miles.
In addition to the F-35s, the Royal Thai Air Force is planning to buy Loyal Wingman drones that can be equipped with weapons and accompany fighters into battle.