Military Aviation

US declines sale of F-35s to Thailand and offers F-16 Block70 and F-15EX instead. But the Royal Thai Air Force is considering the purchase of the Saab Gripen E.

The Royal Thai Air Force said its proposed procurement of F-35 fighter jets has fallen through due to time constraints.

The Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) said its proposed procurement of F-35 fighter jets has fallen through due to time constraints, Bangkok Post reports.

According to RTAF spokesperson, ACM Prapas Sornchaidee, the decision comes as a result of various factors, including training and technical requirements.

The statement released by the RTAF revealed that the sale of the fifth-generation F-35 stealth fighter jets was subject to stringent conditions, such as time constraints, technical specifications, and maintenance compatibility, Alert 5 says. The US could not offer the sale to Thailand because Washington was unable to meet these criteria.

Currently the F-35 is the most lethal, survivable and connected fighter jet in the world and gives pilots the critical advantage against any adversary, enabling them to execute their mission and come home safe. The F-35 delivers an unrivaled advantage for US and global partners pilots as the most advanced node in the networked 21st Century Security vision. The F-35 is the National Defense Strategy in action and remains the cornerstone of the US Services Fighters Fleet and allied fleets worldwide. The F-35 is a capability in indications and warnings, command and control, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. All that, plus its speed and range speaks for itself.

Given its advanced capabilities and stealth features, the F-35 is considered a sensitive export and is exclusively sold to US’ closest allies in the Asia-Pacific region, including Australia, Japan, South Korea, and Singapore. Thailand had set aside a substantial budget of $407.68 million to replace RTAF aging fleet of mostly US-made F-5 and F-16 fighters. Since the country was designated as a Major Non-NATO Ally by the Washington in 2003, initially up to eight Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II strike fighters were identified as the desired replacement.

This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. F-35A Lightning II 56th OG, 61st FS, LF/12-5050 / 2014

The sale of the Lightning II could not proceed because of the complex requirements associated with the F-35 program. An extensive timeline of approximately 10 years (during which the buying country must establish specific infrastructure, training programs, and security systems tailored to the unique technical and operational characteristics of the F-35s) is required to procure the fifth-generation fighter aircraft. Moreover, the F-35A can’t share infrastructure with the F-16 because the logistics, inventory, and management systems of the Lightning II differ significantly from those of the Viper.

Nevertheless, the alternative options were proposed to the RTAF by the US in the form of the of the upgraded F-16 Block70 and F-15EX fourth-generation fighter jets. These alternatives in fact while meeting RTAF requirements can be delivered more promptly.

While the F-35 acquisition is no longer an immediate possibility, the RTAF urges to replace its aging F-16 fleet (which is nearing decommissioning) and for this reason is actively considering other options. Among them is the potential purchase of another fleet of Saab Gripen E fighter jets from Sweden. Thailand already operates 12 JAS-39C/D Gripen multirole fighters, but unfortunately lost one aircraft in a previous crash.

The US and Thai authorities intend to engage in discussions to explore necessary preparations for a future supply of F-35A jets to the RTAF. To stay aligned with Thailand’s national security interests both sides remain committed to maintaining strong defense partnerships and exploring alternatives, despite the current setback.

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force

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Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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