02 Mei 2009

Thailand Joins The Missile Game

6 November 2003

AIM-120C AMRAAM of the RAAF (photo : Thaiflight)

The United States is supplying advanced medium-range air-to-air missiles (AMRAAMs) to Thailand because of "an imminent threat" posed by Russian rockets offered to China and Malaysia, according to weapons monitors.

The US decided to deliver eight AMRAAMs to Thailand after Washington earlier insisted the warheads would only be exported if Bangkok suffered a potential military threat.

"We have no comment on arms deliveries to Thailand," a tight-lipped US Embassy spokesman said when asked about the air-intercept missiles being delivered.

Wade Boese, research director of the Washington-based Arms Control Association, said in an e-mail interview: "The United States committed to sell Thailand AMRAAMs a few years ago, but did hold off on delivery because US policy regarding AMRAAMs is not to be the first to introduce that particular type of missile into a region unless other comparable missiles already exist there.

"The strict US policy on exporting AMRAAMs reflects the lethality of the missile," Boese said. The AIM-120C AMRAAM is prized for being able to kill an enemy plane, or intercept an incoming rocket, before the AMRAAM-firing pilot actually sees the target.

The sophisticated air-to-air missile offers "beyond-visual-range capability", which also allows the AMRAAM-firing pilot to fly away before the warhead explodes - colloquially known as "fire and forget", "launch and leave" or "shoot and scoot".

"Essentially, the missiles are pilot equalizers in the sense that it puts the outcome of a potential dogfight more on the missile's technical capabilities and not the skills of a pilot," Boese said.

The Arms Control Association reported in its September issue of Arms Control Today: "In its annual report on Chinese military power released on July 28, the Pentagon reported that China now possesses the Russian-made AA-12 Adder missile, which is comparable to the AMRAAM.

"The Bush administration told Congress earlier this year that Beijing's ability to relocate the missiles, and Russian offers to sell Adders to Malaysia, create an imminent threat justifying AMRAAM deliveries to Thailand and Singapore," Arms Control Today reported. Under the new arrangement, Singapore could receive up to 100 AMRAAMs, while Taiwan may receive 200, according to weapons monitors.

A Russia-Malaysia weapons deal worth an estimated US$900 million was clinched during Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit in August to Kuala Lumpur, the report said. Putin agreed to supply 18 advanced combat aircraft, known as Su-30MKM jets, to Malaysia within the next few years, it said.

"An educated guess would be that Russia will sell AA-12s to Malaysia to arm the planes," Boese said.

Malaysia currently possesses 18 Russian MiG-29N fighters plus eight US-built F/A-18D combat aircraft, Arms Control Today said.

Thailand enjoys relatively good relations with all its neighbors, including Malaysia on its southern peninsular border and with China to the north.

"Burma is probably the most significant current potential external threat" to Thailand, Jane's Defense Weekly's Bangkok-based Asia-Pacific editor Robert Karniol said in an interview. "But the Burmese don't have an air-force capability to match the Thais."

Cross-border, ground-to-ground mortar clashes occasionally erupt between Thailand and Myanmar (formerly Burma) in the northern, opium-rich Golden Triangle region where Myanmar-based drug-smuggling guerrillas hold sway.

"There is no arms race" in Southeast Asia, Karniol said. "There is an arms buildup. An arms race indicates an imminent threat of hostilities. An arms buildup is a modernization of military capability."

The respected Bangkok Post newspaper, quoting an unidentified Thai Air Force source, reported on October 24: "The United States has delivered advanced medium range air-to-air missiles to Thailand to maintain the military balance in the region. They arrived two months ago [in August], shortly after the [Thai] Air Force received 16 second-hand F-16 fighter jets worth a total of $130 million."

"There were reports that the US planned to deliver the missiles in September or October, but I have not seen any confirmation that they have been delivered," Matthew Schroeder, an Arms Sales Monitoring Project research associate at the Washington-based Federation of American Scientists, said in an e-mail interview. "Raytheon has at least one contract to produce eight AMRAAM air vehicles for Thailand."


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