MELBOURNE, Australia --- Thailand's ruling military junta has approved the acquisition of eight additional South Korean T-50 Golden Eagle lead-in fighter trainers (LIFTs) from Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI). Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha announced the decision at a media conference on July 11.
Thailand intends for the T-50 to be the successor to the Royal Thai Air Force' (RTAF) fleet of 40 Czech-built L-39 Albatros' that began entering service in 1994. A first step towards acquiring an L-39 replacement occurred on September 17, 2015 when the Bangkok inked a $110 million deal with KAI for the procurement of an initial batch of four T-50s. These are expected to arrive in Thailand in the first half of 2018 whereupon they will be designated T-50TH (Thailand) in RTAF service.
The latest batch acquisition will cost $258 million (THB8.8 billion) which Thailand will pay across a three-year timeframe.
The L-39s are primarily used in the training role with ground attack serving as a secondary mission. The new T-50THs will be capable of both mission-types. An interesting aside to the choice of the T-50 was that the platform won out over the Chinese-made L-15 as the RTAF's preferred option at a time many were speculating whether Thailand's defense procurement focus would begin shifting to China due to souring relations with the U.S. and other Western governments.
But the procurement decision reached in Bangkok instead signaled a lingering desire for modern, high-tech, Westernized (the T-50 was developed by KAI with help from U.S. aerospace giant Lockheed Martin) hardware.