Defence Updates- Thailand
The Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) has downplayed reports it is planning to acquire a new fleet of high-tech, expensive fighter jets — including the US-made F-35 multi-role combat aircraft.
Air force commander ACM Maanat Wongwat said the air force has a policy of not purchasing “ready-made” aircraft, and the F-35 manufacturer has yet to sell its jet to a buyer who wants to participate in the development of the fighter jets’ software programmes.
“We are implementing a ‘purchase-and-develop’ policy in our procurement plans, which we intend to begin enforcing in the next 3-5 years,” said the air force chief, who took up the post this month.
The air force hopes to gain from technology and expertise transfer in the process. “It’s not that the airframe isn’t that important, but the software is important too as it is the brain of a fighter jet. That’s why we have to take part in developing it.”
As the air force chief said, one requirement is that the ideal supplier will have to allow the air force to jointly develop the software for operating the aircraft.
These new fighter jets will be purchased to replace the old fleet of 103 F-16 fighter jets that have been in service for more than three decades, said the source, adding the fleet is kept and used by the 1st Wing Division in Nakhon Ratchasima.
“However, [the RTAF] won’t buy any new jets in the next two years, during which we will need to study and negotiate the new Concept of Project Requirements (COPR),” said the source.
Although the F-35 is an advanced aircraft that all air forces would want to have, the RTAF needs to take into consideration the jets’ specifications to see if the jets fit the needs of the Thai defence force.
As such, the source said, it is “highly unlikely” that the RTAF will choose the F-35s, considering their high price tag. The Royal Thai Airforce currently operates F-16 A/B Block-15 OCU, F-16ADF, Swedish JAS-39 Gripen, Northrop F-5E in attack and interceptor roles and SAAB 340 in EW role.