July 11, 2017 / 8:56 AM / a month ago

Thailand approves $258-million purchase of South Korean fighter jets

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

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

Thailand's defense 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 ($258 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.

Reporting by Aukkarapon Niyomyat; Additional reporting by Panu Wongcha-um; Writing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

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