A committee from the United States will visit Thailand to decide if the country’s Air Force is ready to procure the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II fifth-generation fighter jet.
According to Thai press, the committee will look into Thailand’s ability to purchase and maintain the expensive jets.
Thailand announced an intention to procure between 8 and 12 F-35s to supplement and replace ageing F-5 and F-16 fighters in late 2021. According to the commander-in-chief of the Royal Thai Air Force Napadej Dhupatemiya, the service looks into acquiring a small number of the fifth-generation jets and supplementing them with combat drones, likely implying a type of loyal wingmen: drones that have the capability similar to a regular fighter jet and can be teamed up with manned aircraft.
Thailand expects to pay around $70 million for one F-35, which is less than the publicized cost of the aircraft. However, with the mass production of the jet ramping up and its problems being ironed out, the price of the aircraft has been falling steadily in recent years.
Nevertheless, experts warn that while relatively cheap to purchase, the F-35 sports significantly higher maintenance costs than earlier fourth-generation jets, making the purchase a significant commitment for smaller air forces. Yet, despite the limitations, the aircraft won numerous fighter jet tenders recently, with such countries as Finland, Switzerland, and Canada choosing the F-35 to replace their older jets.
Currently the fighter jet fleet of the Royal Thai Air Force consists of the Northrop F-5s that date back to 1970s, General Dynamics F-16B and C variants acquired in the 1980s, and a small number of SAAB JAS 36 Gripens delivered between 2011-2013.