F-35 purchase plan in peril

F-35 purchase plan in peril

The Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) will not back down on its request to purchase US-made F-35 fighter jets, even after the opposition party announced it would use the issue to vote down the 2023 budget bill during an upcoming House debate.

According to an RTAF source, the armed forces will need eight state-of-the-art F-35s, at about 2.7 billion baht each, without weaponry, to boost its ageing fleet of fighter jets.

The air force intends to procure the jets for its pilots and technicians so they can train before they are equipped with weaponry later on.

The training to ensure pilots are prepared to defend the kingdom will take 10–12 years to complete, the source said.

Meanwhile, the procurement process must be approved by the US government, the source said, adding the negotiation period can take about two years.

If approved, a contract for three purchase phases will be drafted.

The air force is aiming to procure three of the aircraft per year in each phase, and the process may take about seven years.

Yutthapong Charasathian, deputy leader of the Pheu Thai Party, said opposition parties will vote down the budget bill in parliament on Tuesday over the plan to purchase the F-35s.

He said that the country needs money for development and financial relief rather than new fighter jets.

The government was forced to borrow 1.5 trillion baht to deal with the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, and people are struggling with increasing cost of living, Mr Yutthapong added.

"I wanted to know why we need new fighter jets and who we must fight against," he said.

"If these questions are not answered by the prime minister, who is also the defence minister, opposition parties will not let the bill pass."

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