Budget cuts have compelled the air force to shelve its planned purchase of six more Swedish-made Gripen fighters, the Bangkok Post reports. As the government decided on Wednesday to slash the defence budget for the next fiscal year from 171 billion to 151 billion baht, the air force had to ditch its plan to order six more Gripen fighter jets worth 15 billion baht, commander Itthaporn Subhawong said.
The air force has already bought six Gripen jets worth 19 billion baht with the planes due for delivery next year. The air force needs the other six Gripen jets to complete a fleet of 12 that will replace its ageing F-5 fighters scheduled to be decommissioned in 2011.
With only six Gripen jets, the air force was not confident of protecting national security, according to the air force chief, who also warned that the decision would weaken national defence where competitive weaponry is vital.
“This affects the potential of the armed forces because they need modern weaponry. If we must defend the nation with weapons that cannot match [our enemies’] or are outdated, nobody will have respect for us,” ACM Itthaporn said.
He said that the six other Gripen jets were necessary for national defence. “We must explain what is essential and need a review from the government. Weapons result in national security. Without strong defences, neighbours will not have respect for us.
“We, all soldiers, are ready to sacrifice our lives for the nation but in any fight we must have competitive weaponry. The life of every soldier is valuable. If a conflict erupts and we have weapons that do not compare, soldiers will be killed,” he said.
The Swedish fighters will be stationed at the air force base in Surat Thani to protect the Gulf of Thailand, the Andaman Sea and all areas in the southern region of the country.
The air force plans to use them as its main fighters instead of the F-16 jets used now.
The Defence Ministry was one of the agencies hit hardest by the budget cuts, implemented because government revenues have fallen short of target and the need to raise money to pay for economic stimulus schemes.
A ministry source said there was a question whether relations between the Democrat Party-led coalition and the armed forces would sour because the armed forces had supported the government but received budgetary reductions in return.