Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin has asked the armed forces to delay their arms procurement plans for the 2024 fiscal year so the government can spend its budget to help those who are most in need, sources said.
The sources told the Bangkok Post on Monday that Mr Srettha has instructed Defence Minister Sutin Klunsang and the PM's secretary-general, Prommin Lertsuridej, to hold talks with leaders of the armed forces to ask them to defer their arms procurements for the 2024 fiscal year for the time being.
"The PM wants the budget to be spent on urgent efforts to help the people. Budgets that have already been approved will remain unchanged," the sources said.
The newly appointed Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) commander, ACM Phanphakdee Phatthanakul, confirmed that the government had asked the armed forces to prioritise efforts to deal with natural disasters such as flooding, forest fires and haze problems.
ACM Phanphakdee also rejected a report which said the RTAF was planning to buy three Gripen jet fighters from Sweden to add to its fleet in Wing 7 in Surat Thani, after the United States refused to sell its F-35A fighter jets.
The air force had bought a fleet of 12 Gripen fighters but lost one in a crash, a RTAF source said, adding that each Gripen fighter aircraft costs around 2 billion baht.
ACM Phanphakdee said that the RTAF will not seek to procure jet fighters in the 2024 fiscal year due to the country's economic situation.
However, the RTAF will consider procuring new jet fighters in the 2025 fiscal year, he said, adding that a working panel will be set up to consider the matter.
"Whether the jet fighters [which will be procured in the 2025 fiscal year] will be Gripen or F-16 is still not known," he said.
ACM Phanphakdee said that the RTAF needs to eventually buy new jet fighters to replace its ageing fleet of F-16 fighters, based at Wing 1 in Nakhon Ratchasima, which will be gradually decommissioned between 2028 and 2031.
"The RTAF will present the procurement plan in the 2025 fiscal year and will ensure taxpayers' money will be spent in the country's best interests and for the sake of national defence," the RTAF commander said.
He went on to say that the RTAF is planning to retrofit its BT-67 utility aircraft with a water tank so it could be used to combat forest fires and drought during the dry season.
He added that he is ready to explain the RTAF's budget spending to the House committee that will scrutinise the 2024 budget bill.
ACM Phanphakdee said the prime minister has also emphasised that if the armed forces were to buy any military equipment from any country, they must convince those countries to buy Thai-made products as part of the deal.
Akkaradet Wongpitakrote, a United Thai Nation (UTN) Party MP for Ratchaburi who sat on a House committee vetting budget bills for the 2020-2023 fiscal years, on Monday praised ACM Phanphakdee for his willingness to comply with the government's policy.
"The government wants to spend its budget to look after the people as the country is faced with multiple problems, chief of which are economic hardships involving bread-and-butter issues affecting people's daily life," said Mr Akkaradet, who is also the spokesman for the UTN.
He noted that the budget for the 2024 fiscal year was prepared by the previous administration, so when the new government took office, it had to manage the 2024 fiscal budget in a way that suited its policies.
However, the new government can prepare the budget for the 2025 fiscal year as it sees fit, Mr Akkaradet said.
The RTAF's decision should serve as an example for the army and the navy, he said, adding it would be best if the army and the navy follow suit.
He added each year, the armed forces are given a significant budget by the government. "The RTAF's decision to cut down on its spending or delay its procurement projects is commendable," he said.