THE US DEPARTMENT of State is withholding clearance for the sale of the Hughes AIM-120 advanced medium-range air-to-air missile (AMRAAM) to Thailand and is instead promising to supply the system in the event of the country's security coming under threat.

Thailand has been pressing the US Government to release the AMRAAM to the region, claiming that the missile is needed to counter the sale of active-guided Vympel AA-12 Adder missiles to neighbouring Malaysia and Vietnam.

The Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF), furthermore, has made its proposed purchase of four McDonnell Douglas F-18C and four tandem-seat -18Ds conditional on the AMRAAM being supplied as part of the foreign-military sales (FMS) package.

According to diplomatic sources, however, the State Department is concerned that approval of the AMRAAM for Thailand will immediately prompt other South-East Asian nations to request similar clearance, further escalating the risk of a potential regional arms race.

The State Department instead is offering Thailand and other friendly Southeast Asian countries, guarantees that the AMRAAM will be supplied if a country faces a threat. The RTAF's F-18s would be wired to carry the AMRAAM, but would be supplied in the interim with the semi-active medium-range Raytheon AIM-7M Sparrow missile.

Thai acceptance of the US compromise solution would enable the AMRAAM to be removed from the RTAF's letter of request and clear the way for of a letter of offer and acceptance (LoA) to be completed. The US Navy FMS office is keen to start the 50-day LoA approval process before the US Congress recesses for Christmas.

Source: Flight International