Asia Defense

Thailand Gets Its First New South Korea Fighter Jets

The move marks further progress for Bangkok’s air force modernization despite continued challenges and constraints.

Thailand Gets Its First New South Korea Fighter Jets
Credit: Flickr/Korea Aerospace Industries

On January 8, South Korean media outlets reported that Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI), the country’s aircraft manufacturer, had begun delivery of trainer jets to Thailand’s air force. The move marks further progress for Thailand in its air force modernization despite continued challenges and budget constraints.

KAI has already been involved in several key Southeast Asian markets with the T-50 and its variants which have made the headlines over the past few years. Specifically, KAI had previously accepted orders for 12 FA-50s to the Philippines and 16 T-50s to Indonesia. All in all, KAI has exported 64 T-50s worth around $2.9 billion since 2011 and is pushing for exports in other markets as well.

Thailand has been on that list as well in recent years. Back in September 2015, the Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) signed a 3.7 billion baht contract with KAI to procure four T-50 Golden Eagle lead-in fighter trainers, with deliveries set at that time for 2018. That was inked after the Thai military government under Prayut Chan-o-cha had approved the RTAF’s plan to procure a total of 16 T-50 jet trainers (with an agreement for the additional four T-50s expected at a later date due to lingering constraints on the country’s defense budget) (See: “The Truth About Thailand’s 2017 Military Budget Hike“).

Following that, last July, as I noted in these pages, the Thai cabinet approved a proposal by the RTAF to procure an additional eight planes at the cost of 8.8 billion baht (roughly $258 million at the time), with payments taking place over several years (See: “Thailand Eyes New Korea Jets”). At the time, Prayut and other Thai officials had framed the purchase around the twin narratives of necessity – given the reality that Thailand needed new plans to replace aging ones it had procured in the 1990s – and self-reliance in the wake of concerns that Thailand was moving too close to China after a submarine purchase went in Beijing’s favor (See: “How Did China Just Win Thailand’s New Submarine Bid?”).

Subsequently, speculation had been about when the third and final batch of planes would be officially finalized and announced. Towards the end of the year, indications were that KAI would begin delivering the first of the aircraft in early 2018.

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This week, as expected, South Korean media outlets reported that the first of the T-50s had left South Korea and were on their way to Thailand. The planes were to be delivered to Thailand via a 12-hour ferry flight.