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US Selling High Tech Missiles To Thailand

US Selling High Tech Missiles To Thailand

by Richard S. Ehrlich

BANGKOK, Thailand -- The U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. embassy spokesman said when asked about the air intercept missiles being delivered.

"The United States committed to sell Thailand AMRAAMs a few years ago, but did hold off on delivery because U.S. 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," said Wade Boese, research director of the Washington-based Arms Control Association, in an email interview.

"The strict U.S. policy on exporting AMRAAMs reflects the lethality of the missile," Mr. 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," Mr. Boese said.

"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 Arms Control Association reported in its September issue of Arms Control Today.

"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 AMRAAMs, according to weapons monitors.

A Russia-Malaysia weapons deal, worth an estimated 900 million U.S. dollars, was clinched during Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit in August to Kuala Lumpur, the report said.

Mr. 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," Mr. Boese said.

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

Texas-sized, Buddhist-majority 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, said Jane's Defense Weekly's Asia-Pacific editor Robert Karniol in an interview.

"But the Burmese don't have an airforce capability to match the Thais," Bangkok-based Mr. Karniol said.

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

"There is no arms race" in Southeast Asia, Mr. Karniol said.

"There is an arms build-up. An arms race indicates an imminent threat of hostilities. An arms build-up is a modernization of military capability," Mr. Karniol said.

"The United States has delivered Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles to Thailand to maintain the military balance in the region," the respected Bangkok Post newspaper reported, quoting an unidentified Thai Air Force source.

"They arrived two months ago, shortly after the [Thai] Air Force received 16 second-hand F-16 fighter jets worth a total of 130 million U.S. dollars," the paper reported on Oct. 24, indicating the AMRAAMs arrived in August.

"There were reports that the U.S. 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 email interview.

"Raytheon has at least one contract to produce eight AMRAAM air vehicles for Thailand," Mr. Schroeder said.


Richard S. Ehrlich, a freelance journalist who has reported news from Asia for the past 25 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

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