USAF creates training unit for advanced F-35A

The United States has refused to sell its F-35 stealth fighters to Thailand over training issues and technical requirements, the Southeast Asian country’s Air Force said on Thursday.

Designated by the United States as a major non-NATO ally in 2003, Thailand had set aside a budget of 13.8 billion baht ($407.68 million) last year to purchase new fighters to replace the F-5s and F-16, American-made.

The goal was to purchase eight Lockheed Martin F-35A fighters.

But the sale of the fifth-generation fighters was subject to conditions including time limitations, technical requirements and maintenance compatibility, so the United States was unable to offer the sale, Air Force spokesman Marshal Marshal Chief Prapas Sornchaidee.

The F-35 is one of the most advanced combat aircraft in the world and is considered a sensitive export sold only to America’s closest allies, which in the Indo-Pacific includes Australia, Japan, South Korea and Singapore.

Thailand currently has 12 JAS-39 Gripen fighters made by Sweden’s Saab, in addition to its US-made models, many of which have been in service for decades.

The Thai military had used US technology since the days of the Vietnam War when it hosted US Air Force and Navy personnel at its bases. Thailand has hosted annual “Cobra Gold” training exercises with the United States for many years.

However, those warm ties have been shaken by the Thai military’s coups against elected governments in 2006 and 2014 and by concerns over overtures by military-backed governments toward rival powerhouse China.

Prapas said that the air force would continue to replace its F-16 jets and that the United States had offered the upgraded F-15 and F-16 models, which could be transferred more quickly.