The US Government may offer to acquire Thailand's eight unwanted Boeing F/A-18C/D fighters, now in production, unless a foreign buyer can be found for the aircraft or a satisfactory arrangement can be reached on either cancelling or deferring the $392 million order.

US sources suggest that the scheme is one of the options under consideration to resolve the issue. The offer could come in March, during Thai prime minister Chuan Leekpai's planned visit to Washington, as a political and financial gesture by US President Bill Clinton to help Thailand out of its deep economic difficulties.

It is unclear where the additional US funding would come from to purchase the four F/A-18Cs and four tandem seat D models, scheduled for delivery in 1999. Funding could be diverted from existing Department of Defense programmes, such as the follow-on F-18E/F. It is understood that the US Navy and Marine Corps had said earlier that they had no requirement for additional aircraft.

US foreign military sales officials are due to travel again to Thailand this month to discuss other options, comprising an outright cancellation, sale to a third country, or delivery and payment deferral. Cancelling the deal could cost Thailand around $270 million at a time when the Thai baht is weak against the US dollar.

Offers to sell the aircraft to Chile and the Philippines to fulfil their pending fighter requirements have so far not met with a positive response. The arms package ordered by Thailand was intended only as an initial first batch purchase and is not complete. Additional spares, weapons and training would need to be purchased by any third party buyer to sustain the force.

Officials also warn that negotiating a sale to a third party will take time to complete and, in the meantime, Thailand will have to continue to make dollar progress payments, or secure bridge funding. Alternatively, Thailand could opt to secure commercial financing to defer delivery of the aircraft for up to seven years, to give its ailing economy and currency time to recover from the downturn.

The US Government, meanwhile, plans to extend indefinitely a letter of offer and acceptance made to Thailand for up 10 surplus US Navy Kaman SH-2F naval helicopters. The machines have been offered to the Thai navy free of charge, but Thailand has so far been unable to raise the $500,000 needed to re-activate and transport the aircraft.

Source: Flight International