SHAH ALAM: Keeping up with the Joneses. Thailand wants to buy eight Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning IIs stating that it will be cheaper than buying the latest version of the Saab JAS-39 Gripen, the E, Bangkok Post newspaper quoted RTAF chief as saying this on Dec. 31.
The Royal Thai Air Force is eyeing the procurement of eight US-made F-35 stealth jets, the world’s most advanced warplane, to strengthen national defence, said its commander-in-chief ACM Napadej Dhupatemiya.
ACM Napadej said the air force needs a new fleet of fighter jets as the ageing F-5 and F-16 aircraft have been in service for more than three decades.
As aircraft age, maintenance costs and safety risks are likely to increase.
The F-35 jets, manufactured by US defence giant Lockheed Martin, have emerged as the best choice now that costs are lower, down to US$82 million (2.7 billion baht) each from $142 million when the model first hit the market, he said.
With the new Swedish-made Saab Gripen priced at $85 million per unit, Lockheed Martin’s product is not out of reach, ACM Napadej said. Depending on negotiations, unit prices of the F-35 can be brought down to just above $70 million each, he said.
ACM Napadej said the budget planning for an F-35 acquisition project will be initiated in the 2023 fiscal year, which started in October, and the air force is prepared to answer all questions if it chooses to press ahead with the purchase.
At the moment, only Singapore has ordered four F-35s with another eight on option. Indonesia has also toyed with the idea of buying the stealth fighter but so far only announced its attention to procure the F-15EX.
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