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Intensifying Competition in Thailand as FA-50 Joins Gripen and F-16 Block 70 in the Fray

The competition to supply fighter aircraft is intensifying in Thailand, involving three contenders, following a proposal from Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) to offer the FA-50 "Fighting Eagle" fighter aircraft to the Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF).

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(DEFENCE SECURITY ASIA) — The competition to supply fighter aircraft is intensifying in Thailand, involving three contenders, following a proposal from Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) to offer the FA-50 “Fighting Eagle” fighter aircraft to the Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) .

The competition became three-cornered after Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) presented a proposal to the Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF), offering the FA-50 “Fighting Eagle” fighter aircraft to the Southeast Asian nation.

Will Thailand follow in the footsteps of Malaysia and opt for the FA-50 Block 20 variant, which is considered the most capable and modern version of the fighter aircraft?

Last May, during the LIMA 2023 Exhibition in Langkawi, the Malaysian Ministry of Defense and KAI signed an acquisition agreement worth approximately RM4 billion to procure 18 units of FA-50M (FA-50 Block 20). Malaysia is set to receive the first batch of FA-50M fighter aircraft in October 2026.

The offer of the FA-50 fighter aircraft to Thailand was made by KAI CEO Kang Goo-Young during a recent visit by Thai Defense Minister Sutin Klungsang to South Korea.

FA-50
(File picture)

 

The South Korean Ministry of Defense invited Sutin to the East Asian country along with Defense Secretary General Sanitchanok Sangkhacan to inspect two advanced training T-50 aircraft destined for Thailand.

The Thai delegation also visited KAI facilities in Sacheon, South Korea.

Previously, the RTAF acquired eight T-50 advanced training aircraft and six FA-50 light fighter aircraft in 2015, all of which were delivered by 2018 and are currently based in Nakhon Sawan.

Speaking at a press conference, Kang said the FA-50 fighter aircraft is a multi-role combat aircraft (MRCA) capable of challenging the capabilities of the F-16 but at half the overall cost of the American-made aircraft.

Additionally, its maintenance costs are significantly lower than those of the F-16.

He also noted that the fourth-and-a-half generation KF-21 “Boramae” fighter aircraft being developed by KAI is priced at only US$80 million (RM360 million) each, with maintenance costs of US$14,000 (RM63,000) per flight hour.

Gripen
Thailand’s Gripen with China’s Shenyang J-11 fighter aircraft.

 

After failing to procure fifth-generation F-35 fighter aircraft from the United States, Thailand is now in the final stages of evaluating its new aircraft to replace its aging fleet of F-16 fighters.

Thailand is expected to announce its fighter aircraft selection by the end of this year.

Previously, Bangkok has reportedly shortlisted two fighter aircraft in its final list: the latest variants of Lockheed Martin’s F-16 Block 70 and the Gripen-E from Saab Group of Sweden.

The selection of the F-16 Block 70 and Gripen-E fighters has been confirmed by Royal Thai Air Force Chief Marshal Phanpakdee Pattankul.

“Since acquiring F-35 fighter aircraft as planned is highly unlikely, the choice has been narrowed down to the Gripen-E and F-16 Block 70,” he said.

Out of the seven squadrons currently operated by the RTAF, three of its fighter squadrons will be decommissioned due to age and obsolescence.

F-16
F-16 Block 70

 

According to sources cited by The Bangkok Post, Thailand’s purchase of new fighter aircraft will commence in October next year with the acquisition of four initial fighter aircraft, followed by additional units.

Currently, Thailand operates both aging variants of F-16 fighter aircraft and 12 JAS39 Gripen fighters acquired from Saab in 2008.

The Thai Air Force reportedly operates 50 F-16 aircraft, with 36 serving as fighter jets and the remaining 14 as training aircraft.

Thailand intends to retire its aging F-16 A/B fighter aircraft. – DSA

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