Thailand has been an American defense industry customer for many decades, but recent purchases have begun to diversify its sources. A 2005 deal for Russian SU-30s fell through, but instead of buying more F-16s, the Thais chose Sweden’s JAS-39 Gripen and Saab’s Erieye AWACS turboprops. Chinese tanks are being supplemented with Ukrainian BTR-3 Armored personnel carriers, and Thai soldiers may be found carrying Russian SA-18 Igla man-portable anti-aircraft missiles. Now this trend has extended to the helicopter fleet.
With many of its aged Bell 212 and UH-1H Hueys grounded due to maintenance issues, the Thai government was looking to beef up its helicopter fleet with new equipment, even as it planned a $30 million upgrade and refurbishment program for some of its 150 or so Hueys officially in inventory.
Rather than buying Bell 412s like the Air Force, or the UH-60 Blackhawks that equip many other American allies, the Thai Army has picked a different platform: Russia’s Mi-17s – and will take the money from the Huey upgrade program in order to double the Mi-17 helicopter order to 6…
The Bangkok Post reports that Russia had offered to sell Mi-17s to Thailand at 168 million baht each in 2006, but the price has gone up. The first 3 helicopters will now cost 950 million baht, with another 50 million baht for pilot training and ground equipment (1 billion baht currently = $29.1 million). The other 3 helicopters will reportedly be paid for by funds diverted from the Huey upgrade program.
The Post adds that the deal has been arranged by the same brokerage firm that arranged the 4 billion baht (about $120 million) deal for 96 BTR-3E1 armored vehicles from the Ukraine. A deal that has been criticized as lacking transparency. Flight International quotes the Thai army’s rationale:
“We are buying three Mi-17 helicopters for the price of one Black Hawk. The Mi-17 can also carry more than 30 troops, while the Black Hawk could carry only 13 soldiers. These were the key factors behind the decision.”
The UH-60 Black Hawk’s engineering allows it to carry about the same cargo load weight as the Mi-17, despite a smaller size that makes it more air-portable but cuts into troop capacity. Generally accepted operational figures are 10-11 troops in the UH-60s, vs. 20-24 in the Mi-17s. See: Bangkok Post | Flight International.
January 10/19: Thailand orders more Two more Russian Mil Mi-17V-5 “Hip-H” medium transport helicopters were delivered to the Royal Thai Army (RTA), Jane’s reports. The Mi-17V-5, produced by Kazan Helicopters is designed to transport cargo inside the cabin and in external sling. It can be deployed in troop and arms transport, fire support, convoy escort, patrol, and search-and-rescue (SAR) missions. The RTA already operates five Mi-17V-5 platforms and ordered the current two Mil Mi-17V-5s back in September 2017 with the contract signed in December of the same year. The platforms were delivered in December 2018.
September 16/15: Russia’s Rostec conglomerate is looking to sell military hardware to Thailand in exchange for commodities such as rubber and rice. The company’s subsidiaries are currently fulfilling a contract to supply Thailand with Mi-17 transport helicopters, as well as Superjet 100 aircraft. Russia and Thailand are boosting bilateral trade ties, with the Russian Trade Minister stating in July that the country would be prepared to sell over $160 million-worth of weaponry in exchange for 80,000 tons of rubber. A Thai military delegation was also recently in Russia to attend an arms fair.