Trans-Pacific View | Security | Southeast Asia

New Attack Helicopter Sale Puts US-Thailand Security Ties into Focus

The proposed sale spotlighted the ongoing development of defense ties between the two treaty allies.

Prashanth Parameswaran
New Attack Helicopter Sale Puts US-Thailand Security Ties into Focus
Credit: Twitter/INDOPACOM

Last week, a formal announcement was disclosed about Thailand receiving attack helicopters from the United States. While the delivery represented just one of several such deals between the two treaty allies, it nevertheless highlighted the ongoing development of the defense aspect of ties between them within their broader relationship.

The United States and Thailand have a range of engagements in the defense side of their relationship as part of their wider ties. This includes not only bilateral components that are usual in relationships such as visits, exchanges, and arms sales, but also multilateral exercises such as Cobra Gold and periodic access for the U.S. military during regional contingencies. That has continued on despite some shifts in recent years, including Thailand’s navigation of its post-May 2014 coup environment and the election of U.S. President Donald Trump and the changes that have resulted in U.S. Asia defense policy.

This week, this aspect of the U.S.-Thailand defense ties was in focus again with a new military sale. Per the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) in an approval announced September 24, the U.S. State Department  approved the sale of eight Boeing AH-6i light attack and reconnaissance rotorcraft, as well as associated weapons, equipment, and support.

According to the announcement, the proposed sale is valued at $400 million. It covers the Little Bird-family helicopters, fifty Lockheed Martin AGM-114R Hellfire air-to-surface missiles, 200 BAE Systems Advance Precision Kill Weapon System guided rockets, 10 Dillion M134 7.62 mm Mini-Guns, four General Dynamics GAU-19/B 12.7 mm Gatling guns, 500 70 mm Hydra rockets, 20 night vision goggles, eight WESCAM MX-10Di electro-optical/infrared cameras, as well as other equipment and supporting material.

The announcement of the sale itself is not surprising. Thailand, a U.S. treaty ally, has long been a purchaser of U.S. military equipment, and while the May 2014 coup had initially meant additional scrutiny on aspects of defense ties, we have seen other major sales since go through as well. And on the AH-6i more specifically, we have seen this offered to other key U.S. allies and partners as well.

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Yet the sale is not without significance. Assuming the sale is followed through on, it would contribute to the enhancement of Thailand’s capabilities in this respect as part of its ongoing military modernization efforts. In particular, the additional helicopters would facilitate ongoing efforts by the Royal Thai Army to retire its seven aging Bell AH-1F Cobra attack helicopters. Per the DSCA statement, the AH-6i helicopters would be useful for a range of purposes including providing light attack reconnaissance for close air support to special operations forces, Stryker infantry soldiers, and border guard units.