The Royal Thai Air Force plans to procure eight F-35 stealth fighters to replace its aging fleet of combat aircraft.
According to service commander-in-chief Napadej Dhupatemiya, acquiring F-35 jets is necessary to update Thailand’s current F-5 and F-16 aircraft, which have been in use for more than 30 years.
“We don’t require a full fleet of F-35 jets,” Dhupatemiya told the Bangkok Post. “We may use just eight to 12 and use drones to fly alongside the manned aircraft. This will help save costs. This is relatively new, but these technologies are likely to develop fast.”
With a reported price of $81 million each — a 42-percent discount on the original price of $142 million — the service feels it is the right time to purchase the F-35s. In a report by Thai-based news outlet Thaiger, the commander-in-chief stated that purchasing the jets in bulk may allow Thailand to acquire them at $70 million each.
A panel will examine the acquisition details and create a proposal to be sent to Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha for approval. Once the purchase is finalized, the new fighter jets will be deployed with the Nakhon Ratchasima-based Wing 1.
“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,” Dhupatemiya explained.
The F-35 Fighter
Developed by American aerospace firm Lockheed Martin, the F-35 combat fighter is a fifth-generation fighter deployed with the US Air Force. It is a versatile, high-performance, multi-role aircraft combining stealth, sensor fusion, and improved situational awareness.
The fighter is equipped with an advanced sensor package designed to gather, collate, and distribute more information than other fighters, providing pilots with a decisive combat advantage.
Traveling at a speed of over Mach 1.6 (1,200 miles per hour), it has a range of up to 1,200 nautical miles.
In addition to the F-35s, the Royal Thai Air Force is planning to buy Loyal Wingman drones that can be equipped with weapons and accompany fighters into battle.