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Rumsfeld Seeks To Sell Advanced F-16s To Thailand

Rumsfeld Seeks To Sell Advanced F-16s To Thailand


by Richard S. Ehrlich

BANGKOK, Thailand -- U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld reportedly tried to sell F-16 warplanes, capable of firing Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAMs), to Thailand two days after he lashed out at China for upgrading its own military.

F-16 sales to Thailand could profit U.S. corporations such as Lockheed, Raytheon, Sechan Electronics Inc., and General Electric which are involved the warplane's equipment, weapons and maintenance.

"I can't confirm or deny what happened in a private meeting" between Rumsfeld and Thailand's defense minister, a tight-lipped U.S. Embassy spokesperson said on Tuesday (June 7) when asked about Rumsfeld's reported sales-pitch.

"Rumsfeld has offered to sell an undisclosed number of F-16 fighter jets to the air force on a 'special condition', reportedly after becoming aware the [Thai] government was studying other options, such as Russian-made SU-30s and Sweden's JAS-39s," the respected Bangkok Post said on its front page on Tuesday (June 7).

Washington's sweetener for the deal may include allowing Bangkok to barter unidentified items for the F-16s, instead of paying the full amount cash.

Russia has already sold its Sukhoi warplanes to China, India, Malaysia and Indonesia.

"The Su-30s cost approximately 34 million U.S. dollars each -- considerably more than the F-16," the Washington-based Federation of American Scientists said.

Sweden, meanwhile, boasts its JAS-39 Gripen warplane is a joint project by Saab Military Aircraft, Ericsson Microwave Systems, Volvo Aero Corporation and Celsius Aerotech.

The JAS-39 was constructed after Swedes scrutinized America's F-16 and F-18, so the JAS-39's air-to-air missile could compete with America's Raytheon AIM-120 AMRAAM.

Anxious not to lose money from arms sales to developing nations, Rumsfeld reportedly made his offer during private talks on Monday (June 5) at Bangkok's Defense Ministry with his Thai counterpart, General Thammarak Ayudhaya, at the end of the U.S. defense secretary's visit to Asia.

On Saturday, however, Rumsfeld blasted China for upgrading its missiles and other military technology.

"Since no nation threatens China, one wonders: why this growing [military] investment?" Rumsfeld asked in his keynote speech at an Asian security conference in Singapore.

No nation currently threatens Thailand either, but next-door Burma was denounced in January by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice as one of several "outposts of tyranny".

Burma was Thailand's worst enemy in past centuries when the two Buddhist countries battled with elephant-riding armies, looting and burning while capturing each other's citizens as slaves.

But Thailand currently enjoys increasingly lucrative commercial relations with Burma, despite occasional skirmishes along their border where Burmese guerrillas who seek independence -- including some who smuggle opium, heroin and methamphetamines -- battle Burmese troops.

Thailand however is fighting a losing battle against minority ethnic Malay Muslim separatists in the south.

America's F-16 warplanes belatedly patrolled the sky above Washington and New York after airborne Islamist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, and during subsequent false alarms.

But Thailand has not experienced any air assault by Southeast Asia's Muslim guerrillas.

The U.S. Army, mindful of the possibility, trained Thai forces in 2004 "to secure an oil platform that was taken over by terrorists" in the Gulf of Thailand, where American and other foreign oil companies drill and pump, according to U.S. Army Major General Stephen D. Tom.

The U.S. Cobra Gold training was "to reclaim a platform in the water, to take out and disarm and retake the tower for the benefit of the commercial establishment that owned it," Maj. Gen. Tom said in an interview at the time.

That same year, the U.S. delivered 30 refurbished Black Hawk helicopters to Thailand to help it fight Muslim militants in the south and guard against drug trafficking in the north.

In 2003, Washington delivered at least eight Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAMs) to arm Thailand's 16 second-hand F-16 fighter jets, because of "an imminent threat" posed by Russian rockets offered to China and Malaysia, according to weapons monitors.

Cash-strapped Thailand earlier cancelled its purchase of eight F/A-18 warplanes in 1998 after Bangkok's bubble economy burst, fueling a regional economic crisis.

*************

Richard S. Ehrlich, a freelance journalist who has reported news from Asia for the past 27 years, is co-author of the non-fiction book, "HELLO MY BIG BIG HONEY!" -- Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews. His web page is www.geocities.com/glossograph/


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