The news comes with the US fighter jet in strong demand from US forces and key allies with only 920 aircraft built so far. The US official response to Thailand’s request is due in July and it is reported that the US administration has not ruled out the supply of the jets, at some point in the future, with Thailand’s Air Force Commander-in-chief Alongkorn Wannarot on Thursday again reiterating the confidence that the Royal Thai Air Force has in the advanced F35 jet. Analysts, however, openly admit there is a concern in US circles, although not openly expressed, about Thailand’s ambiguous military position given its cooperation and warm relationship with the Chinese armed forces and the supply by China of defensive hardware to the kingdom.
The US administration through Ambassador Robert F Godec in Bangkok has given air force command the heads up that a request to purchase F35 fighter jets in a ฿7.5 billion deal is likely to be turned down by officials in the United States but the Americans are offering Thailand, instead, new F16 and F15 eagle fighter jets as an alternative. The United States is also indicating that once better conditions on the ground exist in Thailand for the advanced jet, in perhaps five to ten years, it may reconsider the request. On Thursday, the Thai air force commander still insisted that there was a 50% chance of Thailand receiving the requested F35 jets.
The United States has turned down Thailand’s request to purchase advanced F35 fighters.
It is understood that US Ambassador to Thailand Mr Robert F Godec delivered the news personally to Air Chief Marshal Alongkorn Wannarot, the Commander-in-chief of the Royal Thai Air Force over two weeks ago in a visit to the force headquarters in the Don Mueang area of Bangkok.
Formal communication is expected from the US government in July with reports that representations are being made already at the highest level about the proposed initial purchase even if it has to be deferred.
Demand for the expensive jets is high and the US is prioritising its own forces and key allies at this time with only 920 F35s delivered in eight years
It is believed that the official reason for the rejection of the proposed purchase is the state of readiness of the Royal Thai Air Force to host the advanced fighter jets manufactured by Lockheed Martin in the states which cost between $70 million and $80 million each.
The single-engine all-weather stealth fighter first produced in 2006 and which was introduced to US defence forces in 2015 and 2016 has, so far, only seen just over 920 planes delivered.
The decision by the United States came after expert opinion from the Department of State suggested that Thailand’s air force may not yet have the capacity for the jets in terms of maintenance, pilot training and air base security.
US officials said they would review the situation in five to ten years if the circumstances change or are improved.
The Americans have offered Thailand single-engine F16 jets and dual-engine F15 Eagle fighters instead.
Thailand’s military links with China seen as a factor
Some reports, off the record of course and not official, suggest that the United States may have reservations about the kingdom’s arms and military relationship with China despite it being a fully-fledged American ally in the region.
The jets have been delivered to key US allies such as Belgium, South Korea and Japan but Turkey was pulled out of the programme in 2019 because of its use of Russian military equipment and its somewhat compromised position as a North Atlantic Treaty Alliance (Nato) ally.
Thailand has drifted closer to China in the last twenty years with the Chinese military forging closer links with their Thai counterparts including joint military exercises and defence hardware sales to the kingdom although the relationship with the US military is thought to be stronger.
On Thursday, Air Chief Marshal Alomgkorn also reported that Thailand’s balanced approach to its dealings with the United States and China did not mean that the country was a neutral player.
PM to meet US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin, the potential deal to purchase F35 jets will be raised
The as-yet unofficial rejection of the proposal by American authorities comes as Thai leaders including Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha had urged for the deal to go ahead in representations to Washington DC, particularly in May 2022 when General Prayut visited the US capital and spoke with US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin.
Original plan to buy 8 F35s but the proposed deal was for just two of the state-of-the-art aircraft
A budget of ฿369 million was paid to the Royal Thai Air Force to place a deposit on the purchase of just two F25s approved by the House of Representatives last year at a total cost of ฿7.38 billion.
This will have to be refunded to the state once the US confirms its response to the request.
The original plan advanced by the Royal Thai Air Force was to purchase 8 F35 jets for ฿21.51 billion at the start of 2022 with the price of the craft rising as the United States is having problems meeting its delivery schedules for the aircraft to its own forces and key allies.
Air Force may look again at Swedish jets
Last year, Air Chief Marshal Alongkorn Wannarot indicated that the air force had targeted the F35 jets as it was due to retire its current F16 fleet over the next few years.
The Commander-in-chief said that one F35 was as effective as 3 F16s which cost approximately $14 million each while the F15 Eagles cost approximately $30 million per plane but can be as expensive as the F35.
The air force is also reported to be looking at an alternative option of purchasing new and improved Swedish Gripen fighters to add to its fleet at Wing 7 in Surat Thani where there are currently 11 fighters in service with one of the 12 originals purchased having crashed.