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Thailand plans combat helicopter acquisition

10 October 2017

The Royal Thai Army (RTA) plans to acquire combat helicopters to replace its ageing fleet of Bell AH-1F Cobras, Thailand’s Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwan has confirmed.Thailand is considering acquiring the Bell AH-1Z Viper, seen here in US Marine Corps service, to replace its AH-1F Cobra helicopters. (Sgt Jamean Berry/USMC)Thailand is considering acquiring the Bell AH-1Z Viper, seen here in US Marine Corps service, to replace its AH-1F Cobra helicopters. (Sgt Jamean Berry/USMC)

Speaking on 6 October, the minister said the plan involves establishing a dedicated procurement committee that will outline the scope of the requirement before seeking required funding approval from the government.

RTA officials have since confirmed to Jane’s that several platforms are being considered to meet the requirement. These include the Leonardo (AgustaWestland) AW129 Mangusta, Russia’s Mil Mi-28, China’s CAIC Z-10, the Bell AH-1 SuperCobra or AH-1Z Viper, and Boeing’s AH-64 Apache.

The procurement is understood to cover an initial batch of six helicopters, with the option of additional future shipments. Local media have reported that only two of the RTA’s seven existing Cobras are operational.

The RTA’s attack helicopter requirement is long-standing, having been hindered by a lack of funding. The service’s existing fleet has been operational since 1990, and was augmented in 2010 with the delivery of four ex-US military platforms. These are operated by the RTA’s 1st Cavalry Division Aviation Company, which is based in the central Phetchabun province.

The RTA’s intention to procure combat helicopters was revealed following Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s visit to the United States on 4 October, during which defence officials from the two sides discussed potential programmes through the US Foreign Military Sales mechanism.

A joint statement by Thailand and the US said the respective governments would strengthen dialogue on Thailand’s “defence modernisation efforts”. Jane’s understands that an additional potential acquisition includes the RTA’s procurement of Sikorsky UH-60M Black Hawk utility helicopters.

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