By Thai Newsroom Reporters
NOW THAT THE THAI air force has been provided some budget from the government, the first batch of four US-made F-35 Lightning II stealth fighters would likely be procured between 2028 and 2031 at the earliest, said an air force source today (Jan. 13).
Air marshals have appeared considerably satisfied with Tuesday’s cabinet approval for the 13.8 billion baht fund for the air force’s planned procurement of multirole combat aircraft, the process for which might probably take nearly a decade from now before delivery of the jets to Wing 1 is due, the air force source said.
Given the 13.8 billion baht fund, the air force could begin with the planned purchase of the first batch of four Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II stealth fighters from next fiscal year.
Air force chief ACM Napadej Dhupatemiya commented on December 31 that the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II jet will be offered to Thailand in an ”affordable”’ price range of 2.47 billion to 2.70 billion baht, compared to as much as 4.68 billion baht earlier quoted.
ACM Napadej said the air force has planned to procure eight to 12 F-35 Lightning II jets, the process for which could get started in 2023 fiscal year only if approved by the government and parliament.
The sought-after F-35A stealth fighters with a conventional takeoff and landing system will primarily replace Lockheed Martin F-16 A/B Fighting Falcon fighters currently deployed by Wing 1 in Nakhon Ratchasima, according to the source who only spoke on condition of anonymity.
Those F-16 A/B jets which have undergone a mid-life upgrade programme will then be transferred to Wing 4 in Takhli district of Nakhon Sawan or Wing 21 in Ubon Ratchathani where a dozen Northrop F-5 TH Super Tigris fighters are yet to be decommissioned after nearly five decades in service, the air force source said.
ACM Napadej, scheduled to retire at the end of September this year, confirmed that the sought-after stealth fighters were primarily designed as a fifth-generation, air-superiority combat aircraft which could get on par with others in the Asean community.
That apparently referred to Russian-made Sukhoi Su-30 Flanker fighters currently deployed by Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia and reportedly ordered by Myanmar.
According to the air force chief, only highly-manoeuvrable, combat-proven fighters such as the F-35 accompanied by unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) such as Loyal Wingman drones could literally engage in air defence and air interception missions in the 2030s and beyond.
The one-seat, one-engine F-35 is basically equipped with Raytheon AIM-9X Sidewinder short-range air-to-air missiles and Raytheon AIM-120C AMRAAM advanced medium-range air-to-air missiles as well as air-to-surface guided missiles.
Fifteen countries are currently deploying F-35 Lightning stealth fighters including Israel, Italy, the UK, Switzerland, Japan and South Korea besides the US air force, navy and marine corps.
Singapore has so far appeared to be the only Asean state to have placed a purchase order for a dozen F-35 jets, some of which will be capable of a short takeoff and vertical landing to suit a limited ground space on the island republic.
Top: F-35 fighter jets perform in an air show at the graduation ceremony of Israeli pilots at the Hatzerim air force base in the Negev desert near the southern Israeli city of Beersheba, on December 22, 2021. Photo: AFP via Getty Images / Menahem Kahana and published by Defenseone.com
Home Page: An F-35 jet sits on the tarmac at Hill Air Force Base, in northern Utah. Photo: Rick Bowmer/The Canadian Press and published by CBC