By Thai Newsroom Reporters
A UNITED STATES AIR FORCE team will visit Thailand later this year to evaluate the Thai air force’s preparations for future deployment of US-made F-35 Lightning II stealth fighters, an air force source said today (June 6).
Though the Thai air force’s debatable plan to procure a startup couple of Lockheed Martin F-35 jets beginning in fiscal 2023 is yet to pass approval of the Thai parliament and finally of the US Congress, the US air force team too is yet to see how well-prepared the Thai air force could be with respect to its planned purchase of the multirole jets, according to the source who only spoke on condition of anonymity.
The US air force team is scheduled to visit the air force’s bases and facilities in the foreseeable future to conduct technical assessments of its preparations, especially at Wing 1 in Nakhon Ratchasima, for the future deployment of F-35 fighters.
The air force source said the initial couple of F-35 jets which will be bought for about 2.7 billion baht each will not be equipped with any weapon systems because, he said, they are designed to be primarily used for flight training as well as manoeuvrability programmes and not for active deployment.
Nevertheless, air force chief-of-staff ACM Panpakdee Pattanakul earlier commented that the sought-after F-35s will not be accompanied with weapon systems from Lockheed Martin manufacturing plants but will be equipped with those available in the Thai air force’s inventory.
The air force chief-of-staff said today’s airborne weapon system might probably become outdated and unfit for use with tomorrow’s combat aircraft, thus making it unnecessary for the sought-after F-35s to be readily equipped with one by the manufacturers.
According to the source, the air force pilots who may be assigned to fly the single-engine, single-seat F-35 are yet to get oriented and tested with the two startup jets for which the air force is currently seeking approval from the lawmakers.
It will roughly take a decade from now before several other F-35 Lightning II fighters could be literally delivered to the air force for deployment, he said.
The air force has reportedly planned to procure a minisquadron of eight to 12 F-35s to replace the ageing Lockheed Martin F-16A/B Fighting Falcon and Northrop F-5TH Super Tigris fighters, currently deployed at Wing 1, Wing 4 and Wing 21 in Nakhon Ratchasima, Nakhon Sawan and Ubon Ratchathani respectively.
Air force chief ACM Napadej Dhupatemiya, scheduled to retire at the end of September this year, earlier 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. ACM Napadej apparently referred to Vietnam’s Russian-made Sukhoi Su-30 Flanker fighters which are also deployed by Myanmar, Malaysia and Indonesia.
Meanwhile, Pheu Thai MP Yutthapong Charatsathian who currently sits on an extraordinary House committee tasked with scrutiny of the 2023 budget bill said today (June 6) the budget panel is looking to cut an estimated 16 billion baht out of a total of 197 billion baht in defence budget with respect to the navy’s and air force’s requested funds for weapon system procurement plans.
According to Yutthapong, who has been invariably critical of the armed forces’ weapon system procurement plans, the funding for the navy’s highly controversial plan to buy a Chinese-built S26T Yuan-class submarine without a German engine to be installed as earlier specified might be considerably slashed if not entirely withheld.
The opposition MP called on the army, navy and air force chiefs to testify before the extraordinary House budget committee at parliament instead of appearing on zoom live streaming as had been the case last year under the pandemic situation.
The F-35 Lightning II boasts ‘unprecedented’ technology and can reach speeds of 1,200mph. Top photo: Getty Images and published by Inews.co.uk, Front Page photo: Wonderfulengineering.com