23 Oktober 2008
The Thai government has decided to break the U.S. monopoly on arms sales to the country by buying Russian helicopters. This is the first time Southeast Asia’s largest country has purchased weapons from another country other than the United States. Thai Prime Minister and acting Defense Minister Somchai Wongsawat has approved the contract for the purchase of three Mi-17 helicopters for a total of $9.2 million. Thailand will receive three Mi-171’s from the Ulan-Ude Helicopter Plant. “The modification is considered civilian, but the helicopter is dual-purpose, of course,” a source commented.
The agreement between UUHP and the Thai government was framed in 2005 but not signed. In the fall of 2006, another deal was proposed, but the military government in power at the time resigned.
The Thai army now owns more than 200 American-made helicopters. About half of them are over 20 years old and are no longer usable. There were seven accidents involving military helicopters in Thailand last year. A year ago, the Thai government decided to modernize 15 of its Bell-212 helicopter for 999 million baht (just under $30 million), but that decision was reconsidered after prime minister Samak Sundaravej resigned. The current commander of the army also approves of the decision to buy Russian helicopters.
Russia has been making offers to Thailand for the purchase of military technology since the 1990s, including antitank and ballistic missiles and armored vehicles, but those offers were all rejected. It was agreed in 2003 that Russia would settle its debt to Thailand for a $36-million worth of Thai rice by delivering satellite equipment, among other things. In 2004, negotiations began on the delivery of 12 Su-30MKI fighter jets in exchange for chicken meat, but the Thai government decided in 2007 to but Swedish Gripen models instead.