US government tempts RTA with fleet of F-16 fighter jets

Photo courtesy of The Nation

The US government has made a tantalising offer to the Royal Thai Air Force (RTA) – a loan to purchase an entire fleet of F-16 fighter jets. Defence Minister Sutin Klungsang revealed this intriguing development, shedding light on the high-stakes negotiations.

In a meeting at the Defence Ministry, US Ambassador Robert Frank Godec presented the enticing proposition. Godec conveyed that the US is prepared to finance the RTA’s acquisition of a complete F-16 fleet in one go, rather than through piecemeal purchases. This bold move aims to secure a significant deal, positioning the US as a key player in Thailand’s defence upgrade.

However, Sutin remained tight-lipped about the exact amount offered. He warned that while the loan could expedite the acquisition process, it comes with a substantial interest cost. Other nations have also presented similar loan offers, intensifying the competition for Thailand’s favour.

This American offer follows the RTA’s announcement last month about forming a selection panel to choose between Sweden’s Gripen fighter jets and the US’s F-16s. The decision holds immense strategic importance for Thailand’s air defence capabilities.

RTA Commander-in-Chief ACM Phanphakdee Phattanakul confirmed that the air force has allocated 19 billion baht for the purchase of four new fighter jets. The panel is meticulously evaluating both the Gripen and F-16 models to determine the best fit for Thailand’s defence needs.

Adding another layer to the proposal, Sutin disclosed that the US has also offered a sophisticated data link system. This system can serve as a command centre for the F-16s, ensuring seamless communication with aircraft from various manufacturers, and enhancing interoperability and operational efficiency, reported The Nation.

ORIGINAL STORY: RTAF eyes SAAB Gripen jets to replace ageing F-16s

Thailand is considering replacing its ageing fleet of F-16 fighter jets with SAAB’s Gripen models, as revealed during a recent tour of SAAB’s headquarters in Stockholm.

Reporters from Thailand were given an extensive look at the Gripen E/F manufacturing line and a flight simulator, showcasing the modern technology and capabilities of the fighter jets.

The Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) included the Gripen E/F model as a preferred option in its 19-billion-baht procurement plan. A source confirmed that this model is favoured over the F-16 from the United States.

Last month, RTAF Commander Phanphakdee Phatthanakul, along with other defence officials, visited Sweden to engage in discussions with SAAB regarding a potential deal. Additionally, the Chair of the House Committee on the Armed Forces, Wiroj Lakkhanaadisorn, also visited the supplier to further explore the option.

Gripen Thailand campaign director Robert Björklund highlighted that the Swedish Aeroplane Corporation plans to offer advanced features with the RTAF’s Gripen, including a fully networked sensor fusion and three types of advanced radars: the Raven ES-05-AESA, Skyward G-IRST, and Mode 5-IFF.

Regarding tactical data link systems, Björklund noted that the Gripen E/F is compatible with both the Link-16 data link system and the RTAF-developed Link-TH system. SAAB is also proposing the development of national data links for Thailand, which would provide flexibility and safeguard confidential data, said Björklund.

“SAAB will deliver resilient air power for the RTAF to be the state of global air power collectively.”

Swedish investments

Director of Industrial Cooperation Gripen Marketing and Sales Business Area Aeronautics at SAAB, Frans Unosson stated that the Gripen procurement plan has garnered public attention in both Thailand and Sweden. He emphasised that this plan is a priority for Sweden and is expected to enhance government support for Swedish industry investments in Thailand.

Unosson also mentioned that the investment, through an extensive offset package, could increase military self-reliance and benefit national security.

“Gripen for Thailand will further strengthen the long-term cooperation between our nations and the independence of Thailand.”

Unosson views the procurement as a long-term investment that will not only bolster defence but also contribute to economic growth. Sweden has been a consistent investor in Thailand, with at least 128 billion baht in export values boosting the economy.

In January, the CEO of SAAB, Marcus Wallenberg, and Unosson met with Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin during the World Economic Forum to discuss further investments in Thailand, reported Bangkok Post.

A technology transfer plan for the maintenance of SAAB aircraft was also included in the discussions, aligning with the Thai Defence Offset policy, which requires at least 100% of the Thai investment in Gripen to be matched, said Unosson.

“The values generated will meet the Thai Defence Offset policy of at least 100% of the Thai investment in Gripen.”

Politics NewsThailand News

Puntid Tantivangphaisal

Originally from Hong Kong, Puntid moved to Bangkok in 2020 to pursue further studies in translation. She holds a Bachelor's degree in Comparative Literature from the University of Hong Kong. Puntid spent 8 years living in Manchester, UK. Before joining The Thaiger, Puntid has been a freelance translator for 2 years. In her free time, she enjoys swimming and listening to music, as well as writing short fiction and poetry.

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