BANGKOK — The United States 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 Bush administration decided to deliver eight AMRAAMs to Thailand after having earlier said the air-intercept missiles would be exported only 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 report.
But the respected Bangkok Post reported recently that the missiles have already been delivered to “maintain the military balance in the region,” according to an unidentified source in Thailand’s air force.
The weapons “arrived two months ago, shortly after the [Thai] air force received 16 second-hand F-16 fighter jets worth a total of $130 million,” the newspaper said.
Matthew Schroeder, an Arms Sales Monitoring Project research associate at the Washington-based Federation of American Scientists, was less certain.
“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,” he said in an e-mail interview.
“Raytheon has at least one contract to produce eight AMRAAM air vehicles for Thailand,” Mr. Schroeder said.
Wade Boese, research director of the Washington-based Arms Control Association, said 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.
“The strict U.S. policy on exporting AMRAAMs reflects the lethality of the missile,” Mr. Boese said in an e-mail interview.
The AIM-120C AMRAAM is prized for being able to knock out 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 missile explodes — an action 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.