F-35 purchase plan still needs US OK
Uncertainty remains over whether the United States will approve the Royal Thai Air Force's (RTAF) plan to purchase a fleet of F-35 fighter jets, according to sources.
This is despite the RTAF's move to ask the commander of the US's Pacific Air Forces (PACAF) to throw support behind the procurement plan, one RTAF source said.
The cabinet on Jan 11 approved RTAF's plan to purchase four US fighter jets starting in the next fiscal year with a budget of 13.8 billion baht.
The RTAF source said the matter was raised during a meeting between RTAF chief ACM Napadej Dhupatemiya and Gen Ken Wilsbach, commander of PACAF, during the former's visit to the US, which ended on Saturday.
The two sides discussed a range of topics, including regional security, the pursuit of a free and open Indo-Pacific region and joint efforts to modernise the RTAF.
This was ACM Napadej's first trip to the US, the source said, adding he introduced himself as the newly-appointed RTAF chief, a customary practice.
ACM Napadej was accompanied by a committee on the F-35 procurement project. During the meeting, the Thai military delegation asked Gen Wilsbach to support the plan by encouraging the US government to sell F-35s to Thailand, the source said.
"The PACAF commander indicated support for the purchase, though there are still a number of procedures to go through," the source said.
"In the end, the US government and Congress will have the final say."
However, according to another RTAF source, the RTAF is unsure whether the US would sell the fighter jets.
He added that even though Thailand is a close non-Nato US ally, this does not mean the US will sell them to the kingdom.
US chargé d'affaires Michael Heath recently said "the F-35 (issue) has never been raised in my meetings with Thai officials".
"The sale of any US defence article or capability follows a consistent decision-making and policy process that is transparent and ensures accountability to the customer and US taxpayers," Mr Heath said.
The purchasing process involves multiple US government agencies, including the Department of Defence.
In most cases, the sale of military equipment requires Congressional review and approval, it said.
In most cases, US government officials are prohibited from advocating a single US defence provider.
To start the formal process for any US defence equipment, the customer must submit a letter of request for price and availability to the US government.