The Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) will not purchase the F-35 fighter jets owing to its new policy of buying defence hardware only if allowed participation in the software development programme.
"We are implementing a 'purchase-and-develop' policy in our procurement plans, which we intend to begin enforcing in the next 3-5 years," Air force commander ACM Maanat Wongwat was quoted as saying by Bangkok Post on Monday.
"The air force has a policy of not purchasing ready-made aircraft, and the F-35 manufacturer has yet to sell its jet to a buyer who wants to participate in the development of the fighter jets' software programmes," Wongwat added.
According to the new "Concept of Project Requirements (COPR)" policy, the air force will purchase defence and strategic hardware only if it is allowed to take part in the development of the software used to operate the products. The RTAF hopes to gain from technology and expertise transfer in the process.
"We have to also put our own heart and soul into the weapons and military hardware that we're going to buy. It's not that the airframe isn't that important, but the software is important too as it is the brain of a fighter jet. That's why we have to take part in developing it," said ACM Maanat.
A source at the RTAF said the air force is preparing to set up a committee to draft the COPR for the purchase of a new fleet of fighter jets, which will be announced when the RTAF begins looking for potential jet suppliers.
These new fighter jets will be purchased to replace the old fleet of 103 F-16 fighter jets that have been in service for more than three decades, said the source, adding the fleet is kept and used by the 1st Wing Division in Nakhon Ratchasima.
"However, [the RTAF] won't buy any new jets in the next two years, during which we will need to study and negotiate the COPR," said the source.
Although the F-35 is an advanced aircraft that all air forces would want to have, the RTAF needs to take into consideration the jets' specifications to see if the jets fit the needs of the Thai defence force.
As such, the source said, it is "highly unlikely" that the RTAF will choose the F-35s, considering their high price tag.