Royal Thai Air Force Seeks To Modernize Defense With F-35 Buy

The militaries of Israel, Japan, South Korea, Poland, Belgium and Singapore are also operating the F-35. [Courtesy: Lockheed Martin]

The Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) wants to purchase eight F-35 fighter jets in a bid to modernize its defense capabilities, according to reports.

The stealth fighter jet buy is needed to update the service’s current fleet of F-5 and F-16 aircraft, some of which have been in use for more than 30 years, Commander-in-Chief Air Chief Marshal Napadej Dhupatemiya told the Bangkok Post.

“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,” Dhupatemiya told the newspaper. “This will help save costs. This is relatively new, but these technologies are likely to develop fast.”

RTAF is interested in Loyal Wingman operations, where unmanned aerial vehicles with weapons systems are capable of providing support to manned aircraft, the newspaper added.

Other Recent Purchases

RTAF’s eyeing of the stealth fighters is part of a larger fleet modernization upgrade. 

In November, Kansas-based Textron Aviation Defense LLC announced the service’s new fleet of Beechcraft T-6TH Texan II training aircraft was nearing the end of production.

RTAF awarded a $162 million contract in October 2020 for a dozen of the T-6 military training aircraft, which will be designated as Beechcraft T-6TH in Thailand, as part of a modernization plan underway aiming to develop the Thai defense industry. The contract also includes ground-based training systems for pilots, a mission planning and debrief system, spare parts, and ground support equipment.

Last year, RTAF Air Chief Marshal Chanon Mungthanya traveled to Wichita, Kansas, to fly the T-6.

“Flying the RTAF Beechcraft T-6TH Texan II from the historic hangar where the entire global fleet of T-6 aircraft are manufactured was a very memorable milestone,” Mungthanya said. “These aircraft will equip our students with a significant technological advantage in preparation for their transition to advanced fighter and attack aircraft.”

RTAF also announced last November a $143 million purchase of eight Beechcraft AT-6 Wolverine aircraft, making Thailand the first international customer for the U.S. Air Force’s light attack aircraft, Textron said.

Around the Globe

Last year, Finland and Switzerland both announced they had selected Lockheed Martin’s F-35A Lightning II as part of their air defense modernizations. The U.S., United Kingdom, Italy, Netherlands, Australia, Norway, Denmark, and Canada are international F-35 program partners. The militaries of Israel, Japan, South Korea, Poland, Belgium and Singapore are also operating the F-35.

According to the aircraft manufacturer, more than 750 F-35 aircraft operate internationally from 30 bases and ships. 

Kimberly is managing editor of FLYING Digital.

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