Napadej Dhupatemiya, commander-in-chief of the Royal Thai Air Force, said that Thailand’s military is considering buying eight F-35 stealth fighters from the United States to strengthen the country’s defense capabilities.
The commander said that its air force needs a new fleet of fighters as the F-5 and F-16 have been in service for more than 30 years, leading to high maintenance costs and safety risks.
He revealed that the F-35 fighter jet, made by U.S. aerospace company Lockheed Martin, has become an attractive option. As a result, the cost of each aircraft has now been reduced to $82 million (2.7 billion baht). Its price was $142 million when the model was first launched.
The Royal Thai Air Force currently has 12 Swedish Saab Gripen fighter jets. The new “Gripen” made in Sweden is $85 million, so Martin’s jets are not out of reach for Thailand.
Napadej said that, based on the negotiation situation, the price of the F-35 could be reduced to $70 million per jet.
The budget plan for the F-35 acquisition project will be launched in the fiscal year 2023, starting October this year.
Napadej emphasized that with the technological advantages, the F-35 jet will be suitable for the needs of increasing Thailand’s airpower, and it is an essential part of modern warfare.
Due to budget constraints caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the Thai Air Force plans to purchase the aircraft in phases.
Napadej said that the Thai Air Force does not necessarily replace all F-3’s at once, but they could equip 8-12 F-35 fighters and replace these F-35 with Loyal Wingman drones jointly developed by the Australian Air Force and Boeing.
The Thai Air Force will submit the bill to the government. If approved, the air force will upgrade and strengthen its defense.
According to the plan of the Thai Air Force, the new fighters will be deployed by the 1st Wing on Nakhon Ratchasima or Khorat in North-Eastern Thailand.
The F-35 represents advanced stealth technology. Its electronic warfare suite could enable constant interoperability among coalition users, which could worry Beijing.
According to Lockheed Martin, the F-35 is also powering partnerships in the Indo-Pacific, where regional nations plan to procure a combined total of nearly 300 F-35s.
Australia operates the F-35A with a program of record for 100 F-35A aircraft. Japan is acquiring more F-35s than any other international customer with an established program of record of 147 F-35 aircraft—105 F-35As and up to 42 F-35Bs. South Korea is currently taking deliveries of 40 F-35A aircraft, and Singapore is on track to receive its first F-35B in 2026.
The Indo-Pacific countries are looking to boost up their capabilities to defend proactively. For example, if Thailand joins the F-35 Strike Fighter Alliance, it will form a full-circle air defense in the region.