The F-35 jet fighters would be deployed to Nakhon Ratchasima to replace Wing 1’s F-16s.
According to Bangkok Post, the F-35 is emerged as the best choice given that the costs are lower, down to US$82 million (2.7 billion baht) each from $142 million when the model first hit the market.
ACM Napadej said that with the new Saab Gripen E priced at $85 million per unit, Lockheed Martin’s product is not out of reach. Depending on negotiations, unit prices of the F-35 can be brought down to just above $70 million each, he explained.
He also said that the budget planning for an F-35 acquisition project will be initiated in the 2023 fiscal year and the RTAF is prepared to answer all questions if it chooses to go ahead with the purchase.
ACM Napadej explained that the service is not purchasing weapons but is implementing security to defend the people and the nation’s interests. He expressed confidence that if the public is on the same page as the RTAF, it will support the programme.
A panel will be set up to study the F-35 procurement.
ACM Napadej said the service is also interested in modern air operations, especially those involving the Boeing Loyal Wingman unmanned aerial vehicle, in warfare.
“We don’t require a full fleet of F-35 jets. We may use just eight to 12 and use drones to fly alongside the manned aircraft. This will help save costs,” he pointed out.
“If the air force receives support from the public, including politicians, and if we can afford it, [the air force] will move to upgrade and strengthen its airpower,” ACM Napadej said, adding a proposal will be submitted to Prime Minister and Defence Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha for consideration when it is finalised by the Royal Thai Air Force.
According to Alert5, under the plan, the F-35s would be deployed to Nakhon Ratchasima to replace Wing 1’s F-16s.
Since its establishment in 1913 as one of the earliest air forces of Asia, the RTAF has engaged in numerous major and minor conflicts. During the Vietnam War era, the RTAF was supplied with USAF-aid equipment.
Photo credit: U.S. Air Force