Thailand approves $358 million purchase of S Korean fighter jets

BANGKOK - Thailand's cabinet on Tuesday approved the US$258 million (S$358 million) purchase of eight T-50 advanced jets from South Korea, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said, the latest defence acquisition by a military government that took power following a 2014 coup.

The military government has increased the defence budget every year since, although most recent defence purchases have been Chinese, including a controversial deal for three submarines that provoked questions over its transparency.

Thailand's defence ministry has stressed that it was not buying exclusively from China and is still making purchases from other countries, including the United States, an old ally.

The cabinet approved the purchase of eight further jets in the second phase of a 2015 deal in which Thailand bought four jets from South Korea, Prayuth told reporters in Bangkok.

"We got the South Korean ones," Prayuth added. "You can see that we are not tied to one particular country."

On Monday, the army said the deal was worth 8.8 billion baht (S$358 million).

Last month, Thailand's army chief said the United States planned to sell four Black Hawk helicopters to Thailand after initially suspending their sale following the 2014 coup.

The United States has sold Thailand military equipment worth more than $960 million, including Black Hawk helicopters, air-to-air missile systems and multiple naval missile and torpedo systems, over the past decade.

Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan said the jets would replace 20-year-old planes that were due to be decommissioned.