Over the course of the past week, reports surfaced that Thailand has taken delivery of four new drones from Israel. Though few specifics have been disclosed, the development nonetheless sheds light on the Thai military’s continued attempts to advance the country’s capabilities in this area as well as the deepening defense relationship between the two countries.
As I have noted before in these pages, Thailand and Israel have been looking to boost their bilateral defense relationship over the past few years, and both countries already have ongoing defense collaboration in a number of areas, with Israeli companies concluding past deals with the Thai military (See: “The Truth About Thailand’s Defense Budget ‘Hike’”).
This week, in another such development, reports surfaced that the Royal Thai Army (RTA) had taken delivery of four Hermes 450 long-endurance tactical unmanned aerial vehicles from Israel’s Elbit Systems. According to IHS Jane’s, the procurement of the Hermes 450 UAVs, which are operated by the 21st Aviation Battalion at the Army Aviation Center at Lopburi, along with an associated ground-control system and remote video terminals, was valued at around $30 million and was finalized in 2017 following demonstrations and trials.
Thailand has long operated UAVs, with several programs previously run in branches of the Thai military, including the IAI Searcher Mk II UAVs and the Israel Aeronautics Defense Systems Aerostar UAVs. Elbit Systems is also no stranger to Thailand, having been involved in Bangkok’s efforts to develop its capabilities in other areas as well including artillery systems.
Nonetheless, the Hermes 450 represents a further boost to Thailand’s existing inventory. Hermes 450, which has been primarily employed for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, has already been used by countries for a variety of purposes including countering transnational crimes, as evidenced by its use by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) for counterterrorism operations.
No further details were independently and publicly disclosed by the Thai military or by Elbit regarding the purchase itself, including exact timeline of delivery and status of its ongoing use. Yet the reports nonetheless shed further light on the broader context of ongoing defense ties between Thailand and Israel as well as Bangkok’s continued attempts to finance its defense needs from a range of partners.