RTAF confirms bid to buy US F-35 fighters
Answer expected early next year
The Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) has affirmed its intention to acquire F-35 fighter jets from the United States.
It expects to have the answer to its request to procure the stealth fighters from the US government sometime between January and July of next year, said ACM Alongkorn Vannarot, the air force chief.
He was speaking in Prachuap Khiri Khan after presiding over a ceremony at Wing 5 to mark the 50th anniversary of the air force's squadron of Vietnam-war era AU-23A Peacemakers, the only squadron left in the world using the aircraft. The air force received 33 of the single-prop AU-23As from the United States in 1972.
When asked if the RTAF has a Plan B for the fighter jet purchase, he said: "No, we don't. However, if there are any signs [as to how the US's decision on the F-35 sales will turn] we'll then assess what to do next."
In August, the House committee approved 369 million baht out of 738 million baht sought by the RTAF for its planned purchase of two F-35A fighter jets from the US.
The nation's F-16 jets have been in service for a long time and are due to be decommissioned in the next few years, he said. One F-35 jet is equivalent to three F-16 jets, which explains why the F-35s are worth purchasing as replacements, he said.
In a related project, he said, the US's Textron Aviation Defense LLC has lent the RTAF one AT-6 light attack aircraft to use for software research and development purposes.
This is also a part of the RTAF's procurement of eight AT-6 aircraft that will replace the L-39 high-performance jet trainers, he said, adding the L-39 aircraft have been decommissioned after three decades of service and are now kept at Wing 41 in Chiang Mai.
The AT-6 aircraft procurement requires 4.5 billion baht from a tied-over budget dating from fiscal 2021 to fiscal 2025, he said. Two weeks ago, two of 12 T-6C military training aircraft purchased from Textron Aviation Defense LLC were delivered, he said.
The chief said the air force has been tightening its belt in order to diversify the budget set aside for other purposes to fund projects deemed most necessary, including these jet purchases.
"We are budgeting and slashing expenditures in other areas to ensure the air force budget is spent efficiently," he said.