On Tuesday, Thailand’s cabinet approved the purchase of eight T-50 advanced jets from South Korea. If confirmed, the move would mark just the latest defense acquisition by the military government since coming to power following a coup in May 2014.
As I have noted before, the past few months have been busy ones for the junta when it comes to the defense realm, with the confirmation of the purchase of three Chinese submarines back in April and reports that the United States would sell four Sikorsky Black Hawk helicopters to Bangkok just last month (See: “What’s Next for US-Thailand Military Ties Under Trump?”).
On July 11, the Cabinet approved a proposal by the Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) to procure eight additional T-50 Golden Eagle lead-in fighter trainer aircraft from Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI). The proposal, tabled by Defense Minister Prawit Wongsuwan, costs 8.8 billion baht (roughly $258 million), with payments taking place over several years.
The new procurement actually constitutes a second batch of an earlier deal. Back in September 2015, the Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) had signed a 3.7 billion baht contract with KAI to procure four T-50THs, with deliveries in 2018. That was inked after the Prayut government had approved the Air Force’s plan to procure a total of 16 T-50 jet trainers (an agreement for the additional four T-50s is expected at a later date).
Prayut told reporters that the aircraft would help the RTAF keep up with the modern technology of the Saab JAS-39C/D Gripen that were delivered a few years back. He also added that the approval was proof that Thailand was not “bound by any party when it comes to hardware purchase,” a clear reference to remarks that have been made about the country’s pursuit of a submarine deal with China. South Korean media reports have suggested that the two sides could consider other defense deals and equipment transfers further down the line.
A formal contract to secure the deal is expected to be inked later this month. Prayut has emphasized the need for the new planes to replace the aging Aero L-39ZA Albatros trainer jets from Czechoslovakia procured in the 1990s.
Meanwhile, for KAI, this is just the latest Southeast Asian market that it is hitting with the T-50 and its variants. KAI has given 12 FA-50s to the Philippines and 16 T-50s to Indonesia.