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Thailand Persists in Dream of Owning F-35 Fighter Jets Despite U.S. Rejection

As reported by local media today, Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) chief Punpakdee Pattanakul stated that the military has submitted a budget request for the upcoming fiscal year to procure the latest fighter aircraft for the country's air force, for example the F-35 or Gripen E/F.

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(DEFENCE SECURITY ASIA) — Thailand continues to aspire to acquire fifth-generation F-35 fighter jets manufactured by the United States, despite Washington’s statement last year indicating that the Southeast Asian nation was “not ready” to operate these modern fighter aircraft.

As reported by local media today, Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) chief Punpakdee Pattanakul stated that the military has submitted a budget request for the upcoming fiscal year to procure the latest fighter aircraft for the country’s air force.

Among the proposed fighter jets for purchase by Thailand are the F-35 and Gripen E/F.

The inclusion of the F-35 in the list of proposed fighter aircraft for Thailand reaffirms the country’s persistence in realizing its dream of acquiring these fifth-generation fighter jets from the United States.

Approximately a year after the U.S. rejection of Bangkok’s desire for F-35 fighter jets, Thailand remains committed to obtaining them.

Thailand aims to become the second country in Southeast Asia, after Singapore, to possess the F-35 fighter jets.

Gripen
Thailand’s Gripen fighter jet

 

In May of the previous year, Thai media revealed that Washington had conveyed that it was not yet the time for Southeast Asian nations to have these fifth-generation aircraft.

According to sources from the Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF), the U.S. Ambassador to Thailand, Robert Gordec, met with the then Air Force Commander, Alongkorn Wannarot, to communicate the U.S. government’s decision.

Thai media stated that the country lacks the infrastructure and safety assurances required to own and operate F-35 aircraft. This includes the security of air bases accommodating the F-35, maintenance, pilots, and crews involved in operating the aircraft.

The U.S. Ambassador expressed Washington’s willingness to engage in further discussions with Bangkok if the Southeast Asian nation becomes prepared to acquire these fifth-generation aircraft in the future.

Alternatively, the United States has offered other fighter jets to Thailand as substitutes for the F-35 that was envisioned by Thailand but not approved by Washington.

Saab Group
Three RTAF Gripens

 

Reportedly, Washington has proposed the latest variants of the F-16 Block 70 and also the F-15, potentially the “EX” variant, as options for Thailand.

Recently, media reports from the White Elephant country stated that the Thai Air Force would unveil its development plans, including efforts to acquire 12 additional Gripen fighter jets from Sweden, to supplement the 12 already in its possession.

“The Thai Air Force’s development plan will encompass strategies for acquiring new fighter jets to replace approximately 40 of its aging F-16s, slated for decommissioning by 2028,” stated the Thai Air Force Commander.

The procurement of new fighter jets for Southeast Asia is expected to commence in 2025 and will be executed in three phases.

While Thailand maintains hope for acquiring the F-35, the country’s current preference is reportedly the Gripen fighter jets from Sweden, given that Thailand already operates 12 of them.

F-35
ROKAF (Republic of Korea Air Force) F-35A

 

All 12 Gripen fighter jets in Thailand are operational at an airbase in Surat Thani in the southern part of the country.

Thailand acquired the 12 Gripen fighter jets developed by the Saab Group from Sweden in 2011, although one of the aircraft crashed during an airshow in Hatyai a few years ago.

In addition to the Gripen, there is speculation that Thailand might consider the latest variant of the F-16 Block 70, following the rejection of its efforts to acquire F-35 fighter jets from the United States. — DSA

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