By Thai Newsroom Reporters
A PHEU THAI MP today (Jan. 10) expressed caution over the Thai air force’s planned purchase of some US-made F-35 Lightning II stealth fighters, given top-priority government projects to be carried out first.
Fighter pilot-turned-MP Anudit Nakorntap advised that the air force take into account the country’s top-priority economic and social projects, especially those related to the Covid pandemic situation, which, he said, the cash-strapped government would likely implement ahead of such weapon system procurement plans.
The Pheu Thai MP made his comments in response to air force chief ACM Napadej Dhupatemiya’s declared scheme to procure eight to 12 Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II stealth fighters in fiscal 2023 as a replacement for the ageing F-16 Fighting Falcon and F-5 Super Tigris fighters put in service for over 30 years and 40 years so far respectively.
Anudit, the leader of Thailand’s first squadron based at Wing 1 to fly an F-16 fighter about two decades ago, said the sought-after F-35 jets may not necessarily be procured within the term of the current air force chief, who is scheduled to retire at the end of September this year.
The planned purchase of the one-seater, one-engine stealth fighters might probably span over several years beyond the term of ACM Napadej, according to the ex-F-16 pilot.
The planned purchase of F-35 fighters will be essentially a matter of time given the sustained economic hardships of the people rather than whether or not it will be ever approved by the legislators who dutifully represent the people, Anudit concluded.
Anudit commented that an extraordinary House committee in charge of scrutinising the planned procurement of the Lockheed Martin F-35 fighters, if initially approved by the House, would thoroughly look into a selling price of the jet which the air force chief mentioned as currently low as in a range of 75 million to 82 million dollars each, compared to an earlier quote of 142 million dollars.
The opposition lawmaker admitted that the 75 million to 82 million dollars price range would be ”fairly interesting” but other factors such as the capabilities, maneuverabilities and maintenance of the multirole fighter will certainly be taken into account as well.
If finally procured, a mini-squadron of eight to 12 F-35 Lightning II fighters will be based at Wing 1 in Nakhon Ratchasima to replace its F-16 Fighting Falcon jets which have undergone mid-life upgrades and will be relocated to other air force bases, according to an air force source.
The air force currently runs squadrons of F-16 jets at Wing 4 in Takhli district of Nakhon Sawan in addition to those at Wing 1, viewed as a major air force base whereas a squadron of Northrop F-5 TH Super Tigris jets are currently deployed at Wing 21 in Ubon Ratchathani.
Other combat aircraft currently deployed include squadrons of Saab JAS39 Gripen fighters at Wing 7 in Surat Thani and Dassault/Dornier Alpha Jet light attack and advanced trainers at Wing 23 in Udon Thani.
The air force has apparently opted for F-35 jets to get strategically on par with those deployed by other countries in the Asean region whereas many spare parts and supplementary gears for the F-16s and F-5s will be no longer available to procure, said the source who only spoke on condition that he not be identified.
The reported inventory of Russian-made Sukhoi Su-30 Flanker fighters in certain Asean member states, plus those already ordered by others have raised concern among the Thai air marshals, he said.
That refers to 35 Su-30 jet fighters currently deployed by Vietnam, 18 by Malaysia and 11 by Indonesia whereas six jets of the same type have already been ordered by Myanmar.
However, Singapore was reported to be the only Asean member state to have so far placed orders for a dozen US-made F-35 Lightning II jets.
Top: Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II fighters. Photo: Lockheed Martin, US Army
Home Page: Two F-35 Lightning multi-role fighters in flight. Photo: Lockheed Martin and published by Zeenews.india.com