By Thai Newsroom Reporters
THE THAI AIR FORCE has repeatedly called for the planned purchase of a squadron of Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II stealth fighters to get on par with others deployed by neighbouring countries.
Air force spokesman AM Prapat Sonjaidee insisted again today (July 31) that a dozen F-35A Lightning II stealth fighters were needed primarily to meet future challenges in high-technology air superiority and airborne weapon systems which may be procured or currently deployed by Vietnam, Malaysia and Myanmar. Those apparently refer to Russian-built Sukhoi Su-27 and Sukhoi Su-30 Flanker jets.
AM Prapat said the air force has split up the one-seat, one-engine F-35A procurement plan into three phases, beginning in the upcoming fiscal 2023.
Phase 1 calls for the planned purchase of a couple of F-35As during fiscal 2023 and 2025 for a combined price of 7.38 billion baht, followed by Phase 2 for four F-35As during fiscal 2026 and 2028 for a combined price of 14.62 billion baht and Phase 3 for six F-35As during fiscal 2029 and 2032 for a combined price of 21.92 billion baht.
Nevertheless, the first two of the state-of-the-art, multirole combat aircraft would not be delivered from Lockheed Martin to the Thai air force until 2032, AM Prapat said.
Delays in the planned procurement of the US-built stealth fighters could probably lead to two years behind schedule delivery, according to the air force spokesman.
The air force has planned to decommission a few air wings of fighters currently operable with the sought-after F-35A Lightning II jets to replace ageing ones with some deployed for nearly four decades, AM Prapat said.
He apparently referred to General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon jets currently deployed by Wing 1 in Nakhon Ratchasima and Wing 4 in Nakhon Sawan and Northrop F-5TH Super Tigris jets deployed at Wing 21 in Ubon Ratchathani.
His comments were made in response to last week’s event in which a subcommittee under the House Budget Committee has slashed an estimated 30 billion baht in “ill-defined” expenditure plans on varied weapon systems for the army, navy and air force in the face of the country’s sustained economic slumps and disastrous pandemic situation.
Top: Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II fighters. Photo: Lockheed Martin, US Army
Front Page: AM Prapat Sonjaidee, left, and an image of a Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II stealth fighter, right. Photo: Matichon