The Pentagon has told Congress it plans to sell light attack helicopters and related equipment worth $400 million to Thailand, U.S. defense officials said, as Washington and Beijing compete to sell military hardware to Southeast Asian nations.
The prospective sale of the eight AH-6i helicopters was announced Tuesday, after Bangkok took delivery this month of 10 U.S.-made Stryker infantry carriers as part of a batch of 47 purchased from the United States.
The Stryker deal was announced after Washington certified in July that “a democratically elected government had taken office in Thailand” after the country held its first general election since the military seized power in a 2014 coup.
“The State Department has made a determination approving a possible Foreign Military Sale to Thailand of eight (8) AH-6i light attack reconnaissance helicopters and related equipment for an estimated cost of $400 million,” the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency said in a statement.
DSCA, which deals with foreign military sales for the Department of Defense (DoD), said it had delivered the required certification notifying U.S. legislators on Tuesday of the possible sales deal with Thailand.
In Bangkok, Lt. Gen. Kongcheep Tantrawanich, spokesman for Thailand’s defense ministry, told BenarNews that he could not immediately provide information about the helicopter deal.
“I cannot confirm or give details now because there are some long outstanding arms purchase requests, which were stalled during the time of a non-civilian government in Thailand,” he said Wednesday, without elaborating.
“But, in general, the defense ministry has a plan to buy equipment to increase the armed forces’ potential,” he said, “although they are largely meant to replace aging equipment.”
DSCA said that aside from the AH-6i, which is an advanced variant of the helicopter model used by U.S. Army Special Operations Forces, Bangkok has also requested to buy 50 Hellfire missiles, 200 rockets and an assortment of equipment, including Gatling-style machine guns.
The proposed sale will improve the Royal Thai Army’s (RTA) light attack capability to strengthen its homeland defense and deter regional threats, the statement said. The AH-6i helicopters will replace Thailand’s aging fleet of seven AH-IF Cobra helicopters, it said.
In June last year, Thailand also agreed to purchase four Black Hawk helicopters from the United States through the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program to complete a full squadron of 16 units, the Thai army chief, Gen. Chalermchai Sitthisart, told BenarNews.
The helicopters would be added to the 12 Black Hawks already in service and purchased before a military coup that brought Gen. Prayuth Chan-o-cha to power in May 2014.
Besides Black Hawks, Thailand expects to replace some of its fleet of Vietnam War-era UH-1 (Huey) helicopters with 30 UH-72A Lakota light utility helicopters. The first batch of six ordered before the coup had been delivered, but one crashed in bad weather, authorities said.
After the coup, the U.S. suspended military assistance valued at 119 million baht ($3.5 million) to Thailand but kept participating in scaled-down annual Cobra Gold training exercises, Thai and U.S. officials said.
Diplomatic ties between Thailand and the United States began 184 years ago, which makes Thailand the oldest American ally in the Asia-Pacific region. The kingdom is also a major non-NATO ally that fought alongside U.S. forces during wars in Korea and Vietnam.
Report: Thailand to postpone acquisition of frigate
Since 2014, Thailand has also purchased weapons from Russia and Ukraine and has signed a contract to purchase a Yuan-class submarine from China with expected delivery in 2020, according to the Royal Thai Navy.
Earlier this month, China held a keel-laying ceremony for one of the three submarines ordered by Thailand in a 36-billion baht ($1.05 billion) deal that generated controversy back in 2015. As a result of Thailand’s plan to purchase submarines, the nation’s navy would likely postpone its plan to purchase a second frigate, the Bangkok Post reported on Monday.
Thailand also recently purchased 49 battle tanks valued at 4.9 billion baht ($142 million) from China, while Malaysia earlier agreed to buy four coastal patrol ships from China, officials said. Beijing has sold weapons to at least seven Southeast Asian nations since 2006, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, a think-tank.
BenarNews staff in Washington contributed to this report.