174. Letter From Thai Prime Minister Kriangsak to President Carter1

Dear Mr. President:

Thank you for your thoughtful letter of May 19, 1979.2 I sincerely appreciate both your congratulations and your expressed interest in and understanding of the many problems facing Thailand and our people as we struggle to develop ourselves and to maintain our national security against internal and external communist aggression. We Thai are also, especially appreciative to the United States for your firm commitment to our integrity, freedom, and security.

Regarding our national security, we are quite concerned that the Vietnamese may choose to undertake military actions against Thailand. The scope and nature of the military actions that the Vietnamese may [Page 614] opt to undertake are varied, and range from the more probable clashes with Thai military forces resisting Vietnamese “hot pursuit” of Khmer Rouge forces, to deliberate small scale border clashes instigated by the Vietnamese, to the less likely but still possible full scale invasion of Thailand by Vietnamese military forces. Of course, border clashes and Thai interdiction of “hot pursuit” forces could easily escalate into full scale warfare. Even should Thailand not face overt Vietnamese aggression in the short term, we are concerned about it in the long term, and at a minimum, we fully expect Hanoi and Moscow to sponsor insurgency against our government.

I consider it a matter of urgency that Thailand undertake all prudent measures to deter Vietnamese military aggression, and should that fail to defend successfully against an invasion. Our nation is, however, limited in its ability to provide for its military equipment needs, and must therefore of necessity turn to the industrialized nations for those critical military items that are essential for defense in this era of modern warfare. We intend to do all possible to help ourselves and to provide the forces for our self-defense, but we do need material assistance, which we prefer to obtain from our friend and ally, the United States. Only in the event that our national survival were at stake, would we seek American military assistance in the form of ground combat units, although we would hope that in the event of external aggression against our nation that the United States would assist us, if required for a successful defense, with air and naval support, and certainly with material support, to include grant aid. In this regard, I wish to request that in the event that hostilities between the Vietnamese and ourselves develop or seem imminent, the United States places Thailand in the Wartime Standard Support System for Foreign Armed Forces (WSSSFAF).

In addition to the United States including Thailand in the WSSSFAF, if necessary, I respectfully request that for the present, the United States provide immediate delivery of the following Foreign Military Sales items:

1. Tanks

a. General. We recognize that the M–60A3 tank is the most combat capable tank for the battlefield, followed by the M–48A5 tank. Our tank fleet consists of 176 M–41 tanks with 76 mm guns. We are faced with Vietnamese M–48 and T–54 tanks in superior number. To upgrade our tank fleet to meet such threat, we continue to desire to attain both M–48A5 tanks and M–60A3 tanks, with supporting parts, munitions, support equipment and a training team. Internationally, it is politically most important—and psychologically very important to the morale and esprit of the Royal Thai Army—as well as important to our eventual defense to get the tanks in hand and begin training as quickly as possible.

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b. M–48A5 Tanks. We expect a Letter of Offer and Acceptance (LOA) on the initial purchase of 15 tanks shortly, with delivery in October, 1979. The RTG will respectfully request an LOA for an additional 30 M–48A5 tanks to round out the M–48A5 tank units with a total of 45 tanks. Hopefully, we will be able to obtain the entire fleet within one year.

c. M–60A3 Tanks. We desire to continue to upgrade our tank fleet with M–60A3 tanks, in addition to the M–48A5 tanks noted above. We are awaiting an LOA for 16 M–60A3 tanks. I request that the LOA be extended as soon as possible, and that following our acceptance, the United States provide the tanks promptly. I recognize that the rate of production is limited, but I sincerely hope that you will give priority to providing the tanks to Thailand, along with the necessary training teams and support equipment. Should you be unable to provide all of the tanks on an immediate basis, I hope that, at a minimum, you can immediately provide us with 4–6 M–60A3 tanks.

2. Dragon Anti-Tank Missile (M–47 Weapons system). The RTA has submitted a formal request for a LOA for 120 trackers and 600 Dragon Anti-tank missiles, together with trainers and test equipment. We would appreciate the United States in expediting the LOA, and, following our acceptance, providing immediate delivery, together with a training team to train our cadre, (In view of the formidable tank and mechanized capability of the Vietnamese Army, the Dragon and other anti-tank weapons are critical for a successful defense).

3. 155 mm Howitzers. As a matter of information, the RTA has requested a LOA for 34 M–114A1 howitzers. Due to similar production lead times for the M–114A1 model and the M–198 models coupled with the differences in capabilities, we have changed our request to reflect a purchase of the M–198 howitzer vice the M–114A1 howitzer, with no change in quantity.

4. TOW (Tube-launched, Optically tracked, Wire-guided) Anti-tank Missiles. The RTA has submitted a request for Pricing and Availability (P&A) data for 24 launchers and 100 missiles. It is our intention to use at least some of these systems on UH–1 helicopter platforms. Should this not be possible, we may be obliged to review our employment concepts and not pursue a purchase of the TOW. Otherwise, an expeditious processing of an LOA with early delivery will be most appreciated.

5. AIM–9P Missiles. The Royal Thai Air Force currently has only twenty-seven AIM–9P missiles on hand. We have 206 AIM–9P missiles on FMS order with estimated delivery dates of October 1979 to February 1980.

6. UH–1H Helicopters. The RTA has submitted a request for a LOA for 14 UH–1H helicopters. The projected delivery dates for the helicop [Page 616] ters range from 17 to 21 months. I request that, at a minimum, we be allowed to purchase 4–6 UH–1H helicopters which can be delivered within 12 months. This assistance will enable the RTA to maintain at least a minimum of support to its ground forces. My office will be officially requesting accelerated delivery for the pending LOA. We respectfully request your assistance in procurement and early delivery of these helicopters.

7. Vulcan. We anticipate P&A data on the Vulcan within a month. Presently, we anticipate requesting 24 systems and expressing desires for accelerated delivery. This system is necessary to assist in protecting ground maneuver and support forces against air attacks, as our present air defense capabilities are severely limited.

8. M–72 mm Light Anti-tank Weapon (LAW). During 1977, our request for the LAW was turned down because the quantity requested was not economically procurable. However, because of United States and other allied force requirements during the past two years, we surmise that these conditions may have possibly changed. The RTA is aware that the US Army will replace its LAW weapons with the Viper, soon to be produced. We are most desirous of attaining the LAW as essential complement in rounding out our close-in antitank defenses. To this end, we request that your good offices direct that an LOA for the M–72 LAW be directed for a Foreign Military Sales case for Thailand in the quantity of 72,922 each. Again we will most certainly appreciate your assistance in expediting our request.

9. Ammunition

a. FMS procured ammunition. Although the RTA has accepted and fulfilled financial obligations for all LOA’s for ammunition sales, deliveries continue to greatly lag behind originally scheduled deliveries in many cases. In some cases, delays are in excess of one year.

b. Fourth Increment, Ammunition in Thailand (AIT). For some reason, the AIT which we discussed last February has yet to be turned over. I very much appreciate your interest and concern in this matter, and feel obliged to inform you of the actual status as it stands today.

10. Signal Equipment. Again, we continue to be plagued with exceptionally long lead times in the attainment of some of the signal equipment which we have requested through FMS. In some cases, LOA’s have been accepted for more than two years, while we are informed that items purchased will not be available until next one or two years.

11. Repair Parts. Currently, we are experiencing the same type of difficulties with repair parts as we are with ammunition and signal equipment. Essentially, LOA’s have been accepted but repair parts are not arriving. We are doing our best to attempt to maintain our military equipment in a high state of combat readiness. In those cases where [Page 617] there is a lack of spare parts, we are up against obstacles which cannot be overcome.

There are, of course, many other critical items of FMS equipment and munitions that the Royal Thai Armed Forces need for defense of the nation, but the above we consider to be the most immediate and critical needs. The magnitude of the Vietnamese tank and mechanized threat is significant, and our current anti-tank weapons are inadequate to counter the threat: 3.5 inch rocket launchers, 57 mm and 75 mm recoilless rifles, and the 66 mm LAW (Light Anti-tank Weapon) being the principal infantry anti-tank weapons on hand.

Our country is in danger, and we solicit your assistance in preparing us to deter Vietnamese aggression and to defend against it if deterence fails. In addition to your generous commitment of the United States to preserving the integrity, freedom, and security of the Kingdom of Thailand, we need to purchase from you those items of equipment, weapons, and munitions essential for defense, and we need those Foreign Military Sales items delivered on an expedited basis, while there is still time.

On behalf of the people and government of Thailand, I thank you for whatever you can do to materially assist Thailand in this time of danger to our national security. Thailand considers the United States its friend and closest ally, and we appreciate the friendship and alliance we share.

With personal best wishes.

Yours sincerely,

General (Kriangsak Chomanan)3
Prime Minister
  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, President’s Correspondence with Foreign Leaders File, Box 19, Thailand, Prime Minister Kriangsak Chomanan, 12/77–5/80. No classification marking.
  2. Carter’s letter congratulated Kriangsak on his reappointment as Prime Minister and pledged that the United States would work closely with Thailand to find an international solution to Vietnamese aggression and the plight of the refugees. The letter was transmitted in telegram 127059 to Bangkok, May 18. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790226–1086)
  3. Kriangsak signed “Kchomanan” above his typed signature.