DAVID FULLBROOK / BANGKOK
Meanwhile, aircraft carrier is to be upgraded to bring it up to original specification
The Thai navy is considering acquiring ex-UK Royal Navy BAE Systems Sea Harrier FA2s, which are being retired, to replace McDonnell Douglas
AV-8S Harriers. The Thai navy also expects to upgrade its aircraft carrier, the HTMS Chakri Naruebet.
"In the longer term we are looking for aircraft to replace these Harriers," says Rear Adm Yuttana Phagpolngam, director general of naval operations.
Following initial talks with the UK Ministry of Defence, the Thai navy is awaiting details on the aircraft's condition and availability, prior to any negotiations.
Thailand operates nine ex-Spanish navy AV-8Ss. Their replacement will partly be driven by the costs of a major mid-life overhaul needed later this decade to keep the aircraft operational, says Yuttana.
A tight defence budget for the foreseeable future and the capability of the replacement aircraft will determine how many Thailand buys. It would like at least nine Sea Harriers, but could take fewer if that provides the same capability as the AV-8S fleet, says Yuttana.
BAE's economic offset programme for Thailand, essentially a barter trade deal, could help the Thai navy strengthen its Harrier squadron. The Thai military is in negotiations with BAE, which could lead to a long-term programme if a pilot project is successful.
Meanwhile, the Thai navy is preparing to bring Chakri Naruebet up to the original design specification subject to funding being granted in the fiscal year beginning in October. It is looking for a medium-range radar to fill the gap between the short- and long-range systems already fitted. Other improvements include additional landing aids. Asia's economic crisis in the late 1990s forced Thailand to scale back the carrier's equipment.
Two Sikorsky S-76 helicopters are also planned for deployment on two offshore patrol vessels under construction in Shanghai. The navy is also developing a requirement for an additional maritime patrol aircraft to supplement its three Fokker F27 Mk200s and six Dornier 228s.