The Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) wants to purchase the Lockheed Martin/Rafael AGM-142 Popeye air-to-surface missile (ASM) for its Lockheed Martin F-16A/B and McDonnell Douglas F/18C/D fighters, but it is facing resistance from the US Government.

According to US Government sources, Washington has asked Thailand to defer any procurement decision until the planned lightweight Popeye 2 missile is available. It argues that the smaller Popeye 2 is better suited to the F-16. The Thais want to procure the weapon under a foreign-military-sales deal with the USA. It could, however, purchase the weapon from Israeli if Washington continues to resist.

The heavier AGM-142 has not been certified by the US Air Force for the F-16. The US Government also adds that its has not yet cleared AGM-142 for sale to South-East Asia, despite it already having been ordered by Australia and offered to South Korea.

Thailand argues that the missile has already been flown on the F-16 by the Israeli air force and that it does not want to wait for a lighter version to be developed. The RTAF is understood to have even offered $4 million toward having the US-built version of the Popeye integrated on to the F-16.

The US Government, in the meantime, has briefed Thailand on the F-16 mid-life update programme now under way in Europe. The RTAF operates a total of 36 Block 15 standard F-16A/Bs, including 18 delivered in the past 18 months, and is considering an avionics upgrade and structural life extension for the aircraft.

Source: Flight International