Thailand will purchase four Black Hawk helicopters from the United States through the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program to complete a full squadron, the nation’s army chief said Thursday.
Gen. Chalermchai Sitthisart told reporters in Bangkok that Thailand wants to add the helicopters to 12 Black Hawks already in service and purchased prior to the May 2014 military coup that brought Gen. Prayuth Chan-o-cha to power. Since then, U.S. weapons sales to Thailand have slowed.
Following the coup, the U.S. suspended military assistance valued at 119 million baht ($3.5 million) to Thailand but continued to participate in a scaled down annual Cobra Gold training exercise.
“Currently we are processing the purchase through the 2018 budget the parliament already approved. It is under the FMS program,” Chalermchai said, without disclosing the purchase price.
In 2012 Thailand purchased four Black Hawk helicopters, equipment, parts, training and logistical support for an estimated cost of 8 billion baht (U.S. $235 million), according to the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency.
“We want a total of 16 Black Hawk tactical helicopters to mobilize a company of frontline troops. It is called airborne unit. We already have 12 Black Hawks but the additional purchase hit a snag when the National Council for Peace and Order took power,” he said, using the official name of the junta.
The U.S. embassy in Bangkok confirmed the planned sale, adding the two nations had a “long-standing security relationship,” according to Reuters news agency.
Diplomatic ties between the two nations began 184 years ago, which makes Thailand the oldest American ally in the Asia-Pacific region. The kingdom is also a major non-NATO ally who fought alongside U.S. forces during wars in Korea and Vietnam.
Prayuth plans to travel to Washington
The announcement came amid reports that U.S. President Donald Trump invited Prayuth to visit the White House next month. The date of the visit has not been released.
Earlier this week, Thai Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Kongcheep Tantrawanich said the deputy prime minister told the armed forces to inventory their weapons prior to Prayuth’s trip so he could discuss with Trump the potential for more purchases, according to news reports.
Kongcheep said Thailand seeks to balance military ties with and dependency on the United States and China, according to reports. He said Thai officials told the U.S. envoy they wanted to buy U.S. weapons.
Besides Black Hawks, Thailand expects to replace some of its fleet of Vietnam War-era UH-1 (Huey) helicopters with 30 UH-72A Lakota light utility helicopters. The first batch of six ordered before the coup was delivered last year but one crashed in bad weather.
Since 2014, Thailand purchased weapons from other countries including China, Russia and Ukraine. Among major purchase projects are Chinese submarines and main battle tanks.
On May 5, the government signed a contract to purchase a Yuan Class submarine from China with expected delivery in 2020, according to the Royal Thai Navy. Thailand plans to buy three submarines valued at 36 billion baht ($1.05 billion) over the next decade.
In addition, Thailand purchased 49 Chinese battle tanks valued at 4.9 billion baht ($142 million) to be delivered over the next four years.