BANGKOK — The Royal Thai Army is set to acquire a new fleet of attack helicopters from the US after the 400 million dollar deal was approved on Tuesday.
The US Department of State announced that it approved the sale of eight AH-6I Little Bird light attack and reconnaissance helicopters in a deal worth 400 million dollars, or about 12 billion baht.
The sale was concluded just a few months after the Thai army purchased 60 Stryker infantry carrier vehicles from its longtime ally in July.
“The proposed sale of AH-6I helicopters will improve the Royal Thai Army’s light attack capability to strengthen its homeland defense and deter regional threats,” reads the statement released on Tuesday by the US State Department’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency.
“These AH-6I helicopters will replace the RTA’s aging fleet of seven AH-IF Cobra helicopters and will provide light attack reconnaissance for close air support to special operations forces and Stryker infantry soldiers,” the statement added.
The agency said Congress has been notified of the sale, as per US law which requires any arms deal worth more than 14 million dollars to be approved by the legislature.
According to procurement documents, the army initially announced in May that it would purchase eight helicopters and associated weapon systems and equipment from a Singapore-based defense company, within a budget of four billion baht. But the army later decided to purchase directly from the US government instead.
In addition to helicopters, the deal will come with missiles, miniguns, avionics, and training systems. The model is in service with the Royal Jordanian Air Force and Saudi Arabian National Guard.
Army top brass have yet to comment on the purchase.
The new fleet of helicopters will join the current fleet of eight French-built AS550 Fennec helicopters, purchased in 2011 with a total price-tag of 1.6 billion baht, according to a defense blogger. It will replace an aging fleet of seven AH-IF Cobra helicopters, which have been in use since 1991.
Thailand previously purchased four Black Hawk helicopters from the US in 2009, as well as six Lakota helicopters across 2013 and 2014.
“We are a strategically important country in the Asia Pacific, with a long-lasting relationship between the two armies,” Gen. Apirat Kongsompong said during a meeting with international armies on Sept. 9. “Our defense doctrine has been based on the US since the founding of the military academy.”
Earlier this month, the Royal Thai Navy signed a contract to procure a new landing platform dock ship from China in a deal reportedly worth 200 million dollars (6.1 billion baht). Navy chief Adm. Luechai Ruddit defended the new vessel as necessity for the lacking firepower and humanitarian operations.