House panel cuts ฿7.4 billion for two F-35A combat jets, Thai air force defends plan
A House subcommittee scrutinising procurement projects of state agencies decided yesterday (Monday) to cut the 7.4-billion-baht budget for the Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) to procure two US-made F-35A combat jets, on the grounds that the US Congress has not yet approved the sale of the aircraft to Thailand and the acquisition is not urgent.
Pheu Thai MP Yutthapong Charassathien, deputy chair of the House subcommittee on durable goods, information technology, state enterprises and revolving funds, said that the RTAF could not provide a clear answer to the panel about whether or when the US Congress would approve the sale of the jets to the RTAF, adding that the decision-making process by the US Congress normally takes up to 20 months.
The panel felt that the 7.4 billion baht, already allocated in the 2023 fiscal year for the procurement of the planes, should be cut for the time being and be used for other more urgent projects or to help ease the hardships of people affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The subcommittee’s decision will, however, be reviewed by the House budget scrutiny committee.
Chief of Joint Staff of the Air Force ACM Panpakdee Pattanakul defended the procurement plan today, saying that the Pre-Negotiation Agreement (PNA) could be granted by the US as early as January next year, not in 20 months as stated, citing the need to replace outdated aircraft.
The Lockheed Martin F-35A is a single-seat, single-engine, all-weather stealth multirole combat aircraft that is intended to provide air superiority and perform strike missions. It is capable of electronic warfare, intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance.
During the censure debate last week, Yutthapong, an MP representing Maha Sarakham province, spoke adamantly against the RTAF’s F-35A procurement and the Royal Thai Navy’s procurement of three Chinese-made submarines and seven unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) from Israel.