The United States Department of Defence has implied it will turn down Thailand’s bid to buy F-35 fighter jets, and instead offer F-16 Block 70 and F-15 Eagle fighters, a Royal Thai Air Force source said.
The source said the Pentagon’s message was conveyed by US ambassador Robert F Gordec when he called on Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) chief ACM Alongkorn Wannarot at RTAF headquarters at Don Mueang two weeks ago.
The ambassador said the US Department of State was of the opinion the Thai air force may not yet be ready in terms of infrastructure facilities for F-35s, especially airbase security, airfields, maintenance, pilots and other personnel, the source said.
It would take a lot of time and a big budget to be fully ready, he said.
The US did not reject outright Thailand’s request to buy F-35s and would reconsider it when the RTAF was ready, probably in the next five to ten years. It had instead offered to sell F-16 Block 70 and F-15 Eagle fighters to Thailand, the source said.
The US is due to give an official reply to the RTAF’s F-35 acquisition bid in July. When the request is officially turned down, the air force would have to return 369.1 million baht, an advance payment of 5% approved by the House of Representatives, to the state.
According to the source, the RTAF was still considering buying another fleet of Gripen fighters from Sweden’s Saab AB. The air force earlier bought a squadron of 12 Gripen fighters, which are based at Wing 7 in Surat Thani, but lost one in a crash.
New, more capable versions of the Gripen are now being produced by Saab AB, according to the company’s website.