Thai air force chief still wants to buy new fighter jets from the US despite objections from a house sub-committee

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The Thai air force chief on Tuesday insisted on the need to use the 2023 fiscal budget to buy new F-35A fighter jets from the United States despite last month’s veto by a sub-committee of the House of Representatives.

“The F-35 fighter jet is one of the best in the world and it can be used with many weapons, including the ones that the air force are currently using…which means that it would save on the purchasing of new armaments for the planes in the future,” Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) Commander-in-Chief ACM Napadej Dhupatemiya told reporters at an air force base in Chiang Mai.

“The purchase will be done via the US’s Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program which is a government-to-government purchasing negotiation which means that it will be transparent and it can be scrutinised,” he said.

A House sub-committee on durable product items, state enterprises, ICT equipment and revolving funds that was scrutinising the use of the 2023 fiscal budget to purchase two F-35A fighter jets worth 7.38 billion baht decided to cut the budget last month, citing that the budget should be used to pay back debts that incurred from the Covid-19 pandemic first before seeking new loans to buy new aircraft.

The committee also said that it could take up to 20 months for the US congress to consider whether to approve the sale of the two jets. Yuttapong Charasathien, a Pheu Thai Party MP for Maha Sarakham and a deputy chairman of the committee, said the RTAF can wait until the US congress approves the purchase before asking for a budget for it.

The RTAF had appealed against the sub-committee’s decision and the House committee scrutinising the 2023 budget bill is expected to provide its decision on the appeal today.

ACM Napadej said on Tuesday that the RTAF cannot go to the FMS negotiation with its US counterpart without showing that they have the budget to buy it.

“We cannot go to the negation empty-handed,” he said. “We need to be ready in terms of budget and operational plan so that the seller can see our reediness.”

He said the RTAF had successfully purchased F-16 fighter jets via the FMS program in the past and the air force has been using them over the past 40 years.

He said if the purchase of the F-35 jets was approved, they will be able to use them for another 40 years to come. He also said new technologies on the F-35 would also lead to a transfer of knowledge which is imperative for the development of Thai fighter pilots.

ACM Napadej said the plan is to buy two F-35 first before buying 10 more between now and 2032.

“If this purchasing project is successful, we expect the air force to have 12 operational F-35 that will be ready for combat by 2033,” he said.

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