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US Refuses Thailand Request for F-35 Fighter Jets

In a surprise move, the US government has denied Thailand’s request to procure two F-35A fifth-generation fighter aircraft.

The Royal Thai Air Force announced the development, citing Washington’s concerns that Bangkok is unequipped to handle the advanced jets.

According to air force spokesperson Prapas Sornchaidee, the sale of US-made F-35s was subject to various conditions, including time and delivery constraints, technical requirements, and maintenance compatibility.

He explained that the warplanes require the most modern maintenance and operations to maximize their ability to evade radar and support various missions.

“Therefore, we have to invest in the US-required basic infrastructure, training, and security measures,” Prapas said.

Designated a major non-NATO ally by the US, Thailand had earmarked 13.8 billion baht ($407 million) to procure the fighters.

They were expected to update Bangkok’s aging fleet of 80 fourth-generation fighters, some of which are scheduled for decommissioning within the next 10 years.

Bid Not Over

One of the world’s most advanced fighter aircraft, the F-35 is a sensitive export item sold only to the US’ closest allies.

In the Indo-Pacific, only Australia, Japan, South Korea, and Singapore are permitted to operate the warplane.

Despite rejecting Thailand’s request for F-35s, the US is reportedly not ruling out the deal altogether.

However, Prapas said it could take a lot of time and a large budget for the Southeast Asian nation to be fully ready.

“The US would like to discuss future preparation to accommodate the purchase of the F-35A,” he said.

F-35 stealth fighter. Photo: Lockheed Martin

Proposed Alternatives

According to Prapas, Washington is offering its F-16 Block 70 and F-15 Eagle fighters instead.

It promised a quicker delivery schedule should Thailand decide to acquire the fourth-generation warplanes.

Although not as advanced as the F-35, the F-16 Block 70 is equipped with Northrop Grumman’s APG-83 AESA radar that provides almost fifth-generation fighter radar capabilities.

It also features the new Center Pedestal Display that gives pilots critical, high-resolution tactical imagery to take full advantage of the battlespace.

The F15 Eagle can penetrate enemy defenses and has electronic systems and weaponry that can detect, acquire, track, and attack hostile aircraft.

A ‘Careful’ Move

Deputy director at Bangkok’s Thammasat University Dulyapak Preecharush said that the country’s failed bid was likely unrelated to Thailand’s ties with China.

He stated that the US is extra careful since the Asian country may lean toward Beijing if their relationship freezes.

Beijing currently operates the J-35 stealth fighter, a near-peer competitor to the American F-35s.

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