Over the 10-year period (2010 – 2020), the Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) allocated budget increases at an average of 4.25 % per year. According to RTAF 20-Year Strategy, the focus of Air Power modernization will be qualitative rather than quantitative, leading to an emphasis on capability enhancement of sensors and firepower.
The RTAF White Paper 2020 has set out its procurement priorities for the coming decade, with new transport aircraft, combat search-and-rescue helicopters, and light attack aircraft. The RTAF also plans to add new fighters to replace older aircraft.
One of the service’s key procurement programs is the replacement of its fleet of Lockheed Martin C-130H Hercules transport aircraft. The replacement aircraft will need to be compatible with Thailand’s Link T data link system, which the RTAF is in the process of rolling out.
The plan is also to replace its remaining L-39ZA/ART aircraft, which have been in service since the mid-1990s. The replacement effort will be done in two phases, with eight aircraft sought between 2021 and 2023 and a further four between 2022 and 2024. A budget of $143 million has been earmarked for the first phase.
RTAF wants six more combat search-and-rescue platforms to replace the Bell UH-1s and 412s currently in service, bolstering the Airbus H225M fleet that has taken over some of these duties. The whitepaper also flagged more S-70i Black Hawk helicopters as a requirement.
The plans buy new fighter jets to replace older Lockheed Martin F-16s, which have not been upgraded. Twelve F-16A/B air defense fighters followed by a similar number of F-16A/B Block 15s will be replaced in four phases of six new fighters each, which is expected to take place in 2023-2026, 2025-2028, 2028-2031, and 2030-2033.