China, US Compete for Transport Plane Order From Thai Army

China Military Online
Zhang Tao

File photo shows the Y-9 transport aircraft of the Chinese PLA Air Force.

BEIJING, Sept. 22 (ChinaMil) --The Thai Air Force is looking to procure a new fleet of transport aircraft, and competition for the planned procurement might probably emerge between Y-9 transport aircraft of China's Shaanxi Aircraft Corporation and C-130J Super Hercules of the US' Lockheed Martin, Britain's Jane's Defense Weekly reported on September 19, citing sources in the Thai Air Force.

According to Wang Yanan, a Chinese aviation expert, Y-9 transport aircraft meets the technical and tactical requirements of the Thai military perfectly and he is optimistic about its export prospects even though Thailand's bidding plan for transport plane is unclear yet.

Chinese and American transport planes are of similar performance

The anonymous official from Thai Air Force is reported to have said that Thailand will choose between China's Y-9 and America's C-130J, but he said a third candidate might also join the competition. The purchase hasn't officially started.

The retiring Thai Air Force commander noted that Thai Air Force is seeking to buy a new type of transport plane that uses Turboprop engine to replace the 12 C-130H planes that have been serving in the Air Force since 1980.

Of the two candidate planes, Lockheed Martin's C-130J is doubtlessly much more famous, and 15 countries ordered 300 of it in the past few years. In comparison, Y-9 is a new plane type improved on the basis of Y-8 and that features advanced avionics and cargo hold devices. At present, it is only exported to Pakistan as the platform for ZDK-03 early warning aircraft, but Thailand's neighbor Myanmar has 10 military Y-8.

A Chinese expert explained that thanks to the integral fuel tank, Y-9's maximal flying range has been extended to 5,000km and its hang time lengthened to 10 hours, enabling the plane to fly from Beijing to any capital city across China. If the Thai Air Force decided to buy it, it would be able to fly from Bangkok to any ASEAN member state.

Generally speaking, Y-9 and C-130J have similar technical and tactical indicators. With considerable upgrades and improvements from Y-8 and with a longer and wider but slightly shorter cargo hold than C-130J, Y-9 is fully capable of carrying medium-and-light-duty vehicles and artilleries in the Royal Thai Army (RTA).

More importantly, the armored weapons currently used by Thailand's ground troops are mostly produced by China and Ukraine, the former being the original producer of Y-9 and the latter being the producer of An-12, the "prototype" of Y-8, indicating a good match for air delivery.

Besides, China always gives Thailand a favorable price. C-130J, on the other hand, is very competitive because the Thai Air Force has used C-130H for many years and established a complete logistic support system for it, and L-100, the civilian type of C-130, is in a dominant position in Thailand's general aviation market.

File photo shows the C-130J Super Hercules of the US Air Force.

Chinese military plane has rosy export prospects

Wang Yanan told the journalist on September 20 that as long as performance is concerned, China's Y-9 and America's C-130J are not much different, the latter, however, being more reputed in the world because of its large export volume and extensive use in many countries. Y-9 isn't an export-oriented type of transport plane, but a piece of equipment currently serving in the Chinese military. More of it will be commissioned in the future with upgrades, so logistic support will be no problem after it's exported.

Meanwhile, buying Chinese equipment is more reassuring on the long run because China won't set additional conditions on military trade like the US does. If the RTA bought C-130J and wanted to upgrade or modify it in the future, that would have to depend on the Thailand-US relation at that time, and the upgrade wouldn't be guaranteed if the two countries were not on good terms then. China generally doesn't set preconditions for trade issues and almost always fulfills its role as a big country.

According to Wang Yanan, it's totally possible that the RTA may choose China's Y-9 although which one it prefers remains unclear now.

China's equipment manufacturing has improved greatly in recent years and the performance-price ratio of its equipment is getting ever better. With 80% of the price required by western sellers, international customers can buy similar China-made products with 95% of the performance.

The RTA wants to buy equipment not to fight a high-tech war with world military powers, so Chinese equipment is enough, even more than enough, to meet its demand. Some regional countries have to strike a balance between price and practicality when buying military equipment.

For instance, is it necessary for a country with a territorial depth of only 500km to buy a fighter jet whose combat radius reaches 2,000km? From this perspective, Chinese equipment has immense advantages, and its price is 15%-20% lower than that in the mainstream international market, which is very attractive for countries that suffer from poor economic performance now.

China-Thailand military technology cooperation develops quickly

The China-Thailand cooperation in military equipment and technology has developed by leaps and bounds in recent years, but authorities on both sides didn't reveal much information about it due to the sensitive nature of arms trade, although foreign media sometimes would release eye-catching news.

A Thai newspaper reported on May 14 that the RTA signed a contract with China on the purchase of 28 VT-4 tanks (also known as MBT-3000) that will be delivered next year. Thailand's defense minister Prawit Wongsuwan announced on July 1 that they will also buy three submarines from China worth about $1 billion.

A Chinese expert familiar with China-Thailand arms trade said on September 20 that the bilateral and mil-to-mil relations between China and Thailand have progressed smoothly in recent years. The two militaries often carry out joint exercises, such as the Blue Strike 2016 marine corps joint training held in Thailand this year, and they have a high level of mutual trust in defense area, which is an important reason why the RTA wants to buy Chinese weapon.

Thailand has bought a series of advanced China-made weapons lately, such as the WS-1B and WS-32 multi-barrel long-range launcher, C-802A anti-ship missile and QW-18 man portable air defense systems. Their good consumer experience may be another reason why the RTA pays so much attention to Chinese military aircraft.


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