Armed Forces tally US military hardware ahead of Prayut’s visit
THE MILITARY is taking stock of its US-made military hardware ahead of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s visit to Washington late next month.
Government officials widely anticipate that US President Donald Trump might offer to increase military hardware sales, while Thailand has heavily relied on China for procurements in recent years.
Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan yesterday ordered military chiefs to complete inventories this month to enable the premier to have adequate information before his departure to the White House.
One of issues Prayut would raise with Trump would be about the military hardware that the US had provided to Thailand over the past decade – and also what Thailand expected to receive in the future, according to Defence Ministry spokesperson Maj-General Kongcheep Tantrawanich.
However, Kongcheep insisted that did not mean Thailand expected to agree on military purchases from the US any time soon.
“It is a general procedure to make lists of what Thailand needs based on strategy and forward them for the PM’s consideration to provide him with a holistic picture,” he said. “Other agencies follow this procedure as well.”
Weapons deals would need to be considered by the military and the Cabinet as well as in a procurement process, Kongcheep said. “It can’t be out of the blue,” he added.
The spokesperson did not elaborate on what sort of hardware Thailand was expecting, but said that would be decided based on several contexts such as the regional security climate and economic situation.
Kongcheep said the US had tended to be tough to work with regarding maintenance, the provision of spare parts and other unspecified conditions.
To resolve that issue, as well as to “rebalance” foreign influence in the Kingdom, the military had chosen to purchase Chinese military hardware, he said.
“The maintenance, spare parts and provision of technology – we talked about these issues with the US, and we brought them to discuss with China,” the spokesperson said.
But Thailand, whose first official foreign relations were conducted with the US, still kept track of military hardware purchased from the US, he said.
“We told the US ambassador that we would like to obtain their hardware,” he said. “We will consider agreement frameworks. After all, the Thai military structure is modelled after that of the US.”
Thailand is a US treaty ally and has relied on US made hardware until recently, when diplomatic ties worsened after the two recent military coups.
The last time a Thai cabinet approved the purchase of US military hardware was 15 years ago in 2002, when the Army was given a Bt1.26-billion budget to purchase two Black Hawk helicopters.
Trump’s administration has criticised Thailand recently for the trade surplus it has built up relative to the US over many years, but it tends to be softer on rights and democratisation than its predecessor. Prayut was personally invited to the White House during the president’s introductory phone call in June.