THE US DEPARTMENT of Defense will clear the release of the Hughes AIM-120 advanced medium range air-to-air missile (AMRAAM) for Thailand by the end of this month, freeing a log jam which was threatening any procurement of US fighter aircraft.

Asian and US sources confirm that clearance of the fully active radar-guided AMRAAM is now in the final stages of negotiation. The US National Disclosure Committee will consult with "interested parties" later this month.

The Thai air force's requirement for a fully active, beyond-visual-range, air-to-air missile (AAM) has been spurred by Malaysia's acquisition of the Russian Vympel R-77 (AA-12 Adder) active medium-range AAM as part of its Mikoyan MiG-29 Fulcrum package.

Thailand wants to purchase 18-20 fighter aircraft, with an initial batch of eight likely to be funded in its next budget.

Lockheed Martin, offering the F-16C/D, and McDonnell Douglas, offering the F-18C/D, are competing for the contract. Russia's Sukhoi has offered derivatives of the Su-27 Flanker.

The Malaysian acquisition of the R-77, will almost certainly, result in countries other than Thailand in the region, clamouring for a fully active radar AAM.

Sources indicate that any Singaporean request for the AIM-120 would be looked upon favourably. Australia is also understood to have been cleared to receive, the AMRAAM for its planned upgrade of its F-18s, due from around 1998.

Source: Flight International