October 24, 2003 (by Lieven Dewitte) - The United States has delivered Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAM) missiles to Thailand to maintain the military balance in the region.
Washington's decision to give Thailand
Ally (MNNA) status was not a factor in the delivery, an air force source said. Other sources disagreed and said the prime minister was told of the US decision during his trip to Washington in June.
Washington handed over an undisclosed number of the 'fire-and-forget' air-to-air missiles to the Royal Thai Air Force, even though it had earlier approved the sale on condition the weapons would be delivered only in the event of a pressing security need (which is similar to the agreement with Taiwan
The AMRAAMs came with Beyond Visual Range (BVR) missiles. They arrived two months ago, shortly after the air force received 16 second-hand F-16A/Bs worth a total US$130 million, now based at Wing 1, Nakhon Ratchasima province.
The source said US President George W Bush told Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra of his intention to upgrade Thailand to MNNA when the premier visited Washington in June. Mr Bush confirmed the new alliance in his speech at the army headquarters on Sunday.
The source said Washington felt the AMRAAMs would strike a balance of military power in the region. The delivery was prompted by reports that Russia had equipped some countries in the region using its planes with similar missiles, the R77 'Amraam-ski'.
The US also provided AMRAAMs to Singapore
which sought the weapons many years ago. The source maintained the AMRAAMs, worth about US$5 million in total, were needed for the US-led war on terrorism.
Meanwhile, the army has distributed an explanation of the benefits of such a close alliance with Washington.
Thailand would be on the priority list of countries entitled to receive so-called Excess Defence Articles from the US, and would benefit from the transfer of surplus military equipment. Thailand could also stockpile a reserve of US-made military equipment for national defence. The status also meant the right to buy depleted-uranium anti-tank rounds. Closer cooperation in military research and development with Washington would follow. MNNA status also entitled the country to a weapons procurement loan.