May 9, 2006 (by Mike Kopack) - Thailand is preparing to launch a structural upgrade program for its entire Lockheed Martin F-16A/B fleet, but is to delay its selection of a new-generation fighter.
Thai Aviation Industries (TAI) expects to secure a contract within the next few months to upgrade over 50 F-16A/Bs with Lockheed-supplied Falcon Star kits. It says work on the first aircraft will begin in late 2007, or one year after contract award, and that Thailand
's three F-16 squadrons will all receive upgraded platforms by the end of 2010 or three years after contract award.
TAI says Lockheed will be contracted to supply the kits and tooling and help supervise the installation process, while it is also considering hiring Portugal
's Ogma to provide additional technical assistance.
Industry sources say Lockheed expects to receive a contract by early 2007 and believe the programme will receive final government approval despite political uncertainty created by the recent resignation of Thailand's prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
The Royal Thai Air Force has been evaluating the F-16C/D, Saab/BAE Systems Gripen, and Sukhoi Su-30 and had planned to make a selection this quarter.
Bangkok earlier committed to upgrading 17 of its F-16A/Bs with Lockheed's more limited Falcon-Up structural upgrade kit (Flight International, 4-10 October 2005). TAI says it is now installing Falcon-Up kits on the first three F-16s and that the first will be redelivered in August. Singapore
Technologies Aerospace has been hired to perform the upgrade to the first two fighters at TAI and the company is to supervise work on the third and fourth aircraft.
TAI will upgrade the remaining 13 aircraft on its own.