By Thai Newsroom Reporters
ONLY TWO OUT OF Thailand’s five wings might probably be operable at combat-ready level with upgraded fighter jets over the next 10 years, said an air force officer today (August 2).
Only the General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcons jets currently deployed at Wing 4 in Nakhon Sawan and Saab JAS39 Gripen jets at Wing 7 in Surat Thani might remain actively operable over the next decade during which the other combat aircraft currently based elsewhere are scheduled to be gradually decommissioned, according to the air force officer who only spoke on condition of anonymity.
Those fighters scheduled to be decommissioned over the next 10 years include the F-16s currently deployed at Wing 1 in Nakhon Ratchasima, Northrop F-5TH Super Tigris jets at Wing 21 in Ubon Ratchathani and Dassault/Dornier Alpha Jet light attack jets at Wing 23 in Udon Thani.
Given the planned decommissioning of those fighters, many of which have been deployed for nearly four decades, the air force has looked to procure Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II jets the delivery of which would not occur until 2032 at the earliest to replace those ageing jets, the air force officer said.
Though the fighter jets which are yet to be decommissioned will obviously outnumber the sought-after F-35A jets, the latter’s quality has been considered well above the former’s quantitative advantage, he said.
Air force chief ACM Napadej Dhupatemiya confirmed today his service has already planned to buy a dozen F-35 stealth fighters in three batches spanning a 10-year time beginning with the first batch of two jets of that type scheduled for the upcoming fiscal 2023 for a combined cost of 7.38 billion baht.
A second batch of four F-35s would follow during fiscal 2026 and 2028 for a combined cost of 14.62 billion baht and finally a third batch of six F-35s would follow during fiscal 2029 and 2032 for a combined price of 21.92 billion baht.
ACM Napadej repeatedly insisted that the House Budget Committee finally spare the air force’s requested funding for the planned purchase of the first two F-35A jets since one of its subcommittees has earlier decided to slash an estimated 30 billion baht in “ill-defined” expenditure plans in fiscal 2023 for the army, navy and air force.
The retiring air force chief reassured that the US-built F-35A Lightning II is internationally viewed as a state-of-the-art, air-superiority, multirole stealth fighter “optimally suited” to meet future airborne combat challenges.
Air marshals have earlier expressed concerns over Sukhoi Su-27 Flanker and Sukhoi Su-30 Flanker jets currently deployed by Vietnam, Malaysia and reportedly ordered by Myanmar. The Russian-built fighters could possibly pose an airborne threat to national and regional security, given shared borders and geographical proximities between Thailand and those neighbouring states, they said.
Nevertheless, those air marshals were virtually licking their wounds inflicted by June’s event in which the air force apparently failed to intercept a Myanmar MiG-29 Fulcrum fighter jet intruding into Thai air space over Popphra district of Tak.
The MiG-29 jet briefly swerved into Thai airspace to drop bombs and fire missiles at Karen rebel bases along the common border and then returned to Myanmar airspace well before a couple of Thai F-16s took off from Wing 4 in Takhli and covered the border skies in combat air patrol mode.
Criticism has quickly gone viral taking the entire air force to task for such failures which occurred at a time when it was drumming popular support for the planned purchase of a squadron of the Lightning II jets.
Top: An F-35 Lightning II from the 35th Fighter Squadron at Hill Air Force Base in Utah flies at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, on April 15, 2017. Photo: CNN
Front Page: Air force chief ACM Napadej Dhupatemiya. Photo: Board.postjung.com