Thailand has bought eight additional T-50TH Golden Eagle advanced jet trainers from Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI), with an approximate $260 million government-to-government contract signed on 30 July.
The purchase had been earlier approved by the Thai cabinet on 11 July. KAI said the first two aircraft would be delivered in November 2019 and the remainder by May 2020.
AVM Pongsak Semachai revealed that the aircraft would be paid for over a three-year period.
The kingdom purchased four T-50 jets in a September 2015 deal worth $110 million. These are due to be delivered to the Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) by mid-2018 and will be operated by Wing 4 based at Takhli Air Base in Nakhon Sawan. Six pilots are currently undergoing training on the new platform.
Specifications about the RTAF’s T-50s are scant, but they are expected to feature an Elbit Systems ELM-2032 fire control radar, the ability to carry armaments and future provision for a Link 16 data link.
T-50TH trainer jets will replace dwindling numbers of Aero Vodochody L-39ZA Albatros trainers that have been in service for training and combat roles since the early 1990s. They are becoming increasingly expensive to keep in service.
Furthermore, modern trainer jets are needed to help pilots transition to new fighters such as the Saab Gripen. Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said: ‘It will only bring more damage if we provide insufficient training.’
It is understood that the RTAF will acquire an additional four T-50THs in a third batch in order to fulfil its requirement for 16 such aircraft.
The acquisition of these aircraft will bring the total value of military hardware bought by the junta since the 2014 coup to about $2.19 billion.
Thailand has been increasingly turning to China’s embrace for defence equipment, but interestingly the T-50 won out over the Hongdu L-15 when a competition for the new trainer was originally held.
Prayuth argued that the choice of the T-50 proved that Thailand is open to doing business with any country, including the US.
In May, KAI completed delivery of the final FA-50PH light attack aircraft to the Philippines, which is now operating twelve airframes. Indonesia is another regional customer for the T-50.
KAI has sold 64 T-50 aircraft worldwide to date for a combined worth of $2.93 billion.