RTAF readies new white paper outlining future capabilities

The Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) will release a new white paper detailing its force development strategies for the next decade including its rationale for 12 new multirole combat aircraft, RTAF chief Air Chief Marshal Punpakdee Pattanakul said during a media conference on 16 January.

ACM Pattanakul said the new white paper will be launched during a RTAF symposium set to be held on 29 February.

The plan to acquire new combat aircraft centres on the replacement for the RTAF’s ageing Lockheed Martin F-16A/B fleet which will be retired in 2028. It is understood that this programme will be divided into three phases, with the first expected to begin in October 2025.

The first phase for four aircraft will reportedly cost an estimated 19 billion baht.  The service also released a request for proposals (RFP) in October 2023 for possible contenders, although no specific fighter type was mentioned in the proposal. However, it has been widely considered that the Saab JAS 39E Gripen and Lockheed Martin F-16 Block 70/72 are the two current frontrunners.

Both companies already have a strong track record in Thailand, with Lockheed Martin supplying RTAF’s current F-16A/B fleet while Saab has provided its JAS 39C/D Gripen and Saab 340 airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft.

Thailand’s earlier ambition to acquire the fifth-generation Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter did not gain traction with the United States government.

The RTAF’s previous white paper was published in 2020 and had outlined the various missions undertaken by the service in air defence and reconnaissance operations, as well as its roles in tactical airlift and search and rescue.

The white paper also highlighted the capabilities required to perform these missions, such as new combat aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles, radar systems, and aircrew training.

by Jr Ng