Air force wants B19bn for new fighters

Air force wants B19bn for new fighters

F-35 (Photo: Reuters)
F-35 (Photo: Reuters)

The air force aims to submit a request asking for a 19-billion-baht budget in the next fiscal year to procure new fighter jets, according to its commander-in-chief.

These jets could possibly be the US F-35 or Sweden's Gripen E/F, ACM Punpakdee Pattanakul said on Tuesday.

The comments indicated that the air force has yet to give up on its plan to procure new F-35 jets despite the new government's offset policy.

The new policy requires that the country that supplies Thailand with new military hardware has to reciprocate by offering Thailand an equal economic evaluation in bilateral trade.

According to ACM Punpakdee, Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin has allowed the air force to exercise its best judgement in implementing a new fighter jet procurement plan.

In this regard, the air force has set up a selection committee to directly handle the new procurement project, he said.

It has the authority to determine which supplier offers the best solution to Thailand's needs, he added.

The air force chief said that he couldn't confirm at this point if the Swedish-made Gripen would have a better chance of winning selection as Sweden is possibly offering better trade benefits.

An economic return could mean something else other than reciprocal trade, he said. The US, for instance, has normally offered Thailand financial aid in several forms, such as funds for building schools, ACM Punpakdee said.

The economic return is not necessarily the import of more Thai agricultural products. It could be setting up a factory in Thailand, he said.

As to whether international politics could be a factor when deciding which country to buy from, ACM Punpakdee said that isn't the case, as Thailand always maintains its neutrality and stays out of conflicts between superpowers.

Regarding the air force's familiarity with certain types of fighter jets, he said the air force now flies F-5, F-16 and Gripen aircraft. Hence, it could be any of these jets that replace old fighter jets in 403 Squadron by 2037, he said.

"It is most important that we don't end up disappointing our people in the air force. Or at least the public won't be disappointed [in this fighter procurement plan]," he said.

The air force is conducting a survey to gauge public opinion on the new fighter jet procurement. These opinions will also be considered when drafting the plan, ACM Punpakdee said.

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