Harrier creates challenges for Royal Thai Navy

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The Royal Thai Navy is grappling with major logistical and training challenges following the recent entry into Navy service of the British Aerospace AV-8A Harrier.

Thailand has acquired seven AV-8S and two tandem-seat TAV-8S Matador versions of the Harrier from the Spanish navy. The vertical/short-take-off-and-landing (V/STOL) aircraft were obtained as part of a Thai navy order for an 11,500t Spanish-built light aircraft-carrier.

According to navy sources, however, there are no funds available in the budget for at least 18 months to allow proper spares support, repair and overhaul for the nine Harriers.

Three months after the aircraft arrived aboard the V/STOL carrier, HMTS Chakri Naruebet, two are grounded because of powerplant and electrical problems. Spain supplied 16 Rolls-Royce Pegasus engines, including seven spares, but only half that number is understood to be serviceable.

Until additional money can be found, the navy will have to rely on the limited spares supplied by the Spanish navy. Operational readiness will almost certainly suffer as a result, say observers. With only seven Thai pilots now qualified to fly the Harriers, the service will remain heavily dependent on Spain for pilot training for the foreseeable future.

The Spanish navy has seconded four pilots and a maintenance crew to Thailand for a two-year period to support the Thai navy operation at Utapao naval air station and aboard the Chakri Naruebet.

A cash squeeze has also meant that there is no spare funding to acquire new weapons, aside from the iron bombs and 127mm rocket pods supplied with the aircraft.

The Navy particularly wants to buy some AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles which the Harriers were also equipped to carry in Spanish service.

Absorbing the Harriers into service has been complicated by the different types of other fixed-wing aircraft which the Navy has recently acquired secondhand from the US Navy, including 18 Vought A-7E/ TA-7E Fighters and Five Lockheed Martin P-3A/UP-3T Orions. It is also operating six newly delivered Sikorsky S-70B2 Seahawks and is discussing ordering a further three Fairchild Dornier 228s to supplement six already in service.