New Fighter Jet Deal Puts Thailand-South Korea Military Ties into Focus

The new pact spotlights wider ongoing military collaboration between the two sides.

Prashanth Parameswaran
New Fighter Jet Deal Puts Thailand-South Korea Military Ties into Focus
Credit: Flickr/Prachatai

On May 24, a South Korean firm announced a new deal it had reached with Thailand’s military related to fighter jets. The development highlighted the ongoing defense ties between the two countries, which they have been looking to continue to develop in recent years.

As I have observed before in these pages, military ties between South Korea and Thailand are by no means a new development. Indeed, Thailand has been among the key markets pursued by some South Korean companies in recent years, and there have been some deals that have occasionally spotlighted this aspect of the relationship. That has continued on over the past year as well, with both sides discussing how to advance ties in various aspects including visits, defense equipment, and potential defense industry collaboration.

Among the prominent recent deals between the two sides in this respect had been the provision of T-50 Golden Eagle lead-in fighter trainers for the Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) by South Korean aircraft manufacturer Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI). Thailand had made two separate orders – one for T-50TH jets ordered in 2015 for around $110 million and a separate 2017 order for eight T-50TH aircraft for $2.6 billion – with the deals being one of the key line items in Bangkok’s military modernization. The four aircraft had been delivered in 2018 and subsequently commissioned into the RTAF, while the remaining eight were expected to be delivered starting in late 2019.

This week, this aspect of the relationship was in the spotlight with news that KAI had been awarded another related contract in this regard. Per KAI in a filing to the Korean stock exchange on May 24, the company was awarded a contract by the RTAF to modify the T-50TH Golden Eagle lead-in fighter trainers.

Per KAI, the deal constitutes an upgrade and modification program that aims to equip the RTAF’s 12 T-50TH aircraft with various equipment including radars, radar warning receivers, and counter measures dispenser systems. It is worth around 62.3 billion Korean won (about $52.5 million), and also includes follow up and support such as training, repair parts, and support equipment.

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Few additional specifics were provided by KAI or the Thai government, including details on the particular forms of training as well as which aircraft the funds would involve given that there still remain some that are on the way. Nonetheless, the contract, which is set to be completed by late 2021, is yet another indication of the continued relationship between Thailand and South Korea on this line item in Bangkok’s ongoing military modernization.