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Thailand approves $414 mln budget for fighter jets upgrade

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Bangkok (Reuters) – Thailand’s cabinet has backed a plan to buy four fighter jets starting in the next fiscal year, an air force spokesman said on Wednesday, with a budget of 13.8 billion baht ($413.67 million) set aside for the procurement.

The approval follows a recent expression of interest by the air force chief, Air Chief Marshal Napadej Dhupatemiya, in procuring eight F-35 fighter jets from Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT.N) of the United States.

The cabinet has agreed the budget for a four-year period starting in the 2023 fiscal year, to replace some of the country’s aging F-16 jets, air force spokesman Air Vice Marshal Prapas Sornchaidee told reporters.

Thailand’s currently has 12 JAS-39 Gripen fighter jets made by Sweden’s Saab (SAABb.ST) and dozens of American F-16 and F-5 jets, some of which have been in operation since the late 1980s.

Napadej last month expressed a preference for the stealthy, fifth-generation F-35 because its price had fallen since it first hit the market.

The first F-35A cost $221 million in 2007 but as production quantities and know-how increased, the price fell to about $79 million as of July last year as it gained appeal and buyers in more than a dozen countries.

Spokesman Prapas said the type of aircraft to buy would be decided by two committees tasked with assessing the suitability of different aircraft.

($1 = 33.3600 baht)

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