The highly sensitive issue of how Nasa will utilise U-Tapao Airport in Rayong will likely be a topic during the scheduled discussion between a US high-ranking official and Supreme Commander General Thanasak Patimapakorn.
“They will meet [tomorrow] at the Royal Thai Armed Forces headquarters,” a source said yesterday.
The plan by the National Aeronautics and Space Administra-tion, an independent agency of the US government, to use Thailand’s naval airport as the base for its most complex and ambitious airborne science campaign of the year has raised suspicion. Some critics are worried the campaign may involve security issues.
Nasa has insisted the SEAC4RS campaign or Southeast Asia Composition, Cloud, Climate Coupling Regional Study is for the purpose of understanding the complex meteorological system. The campaign is designed to probe a vast expanse of the Southeast Asian atmosphere from top to bottom at the critical time of year when strong weather systems and prolific regional air pollution pump chemicals and particles high into the atmosphere with potentially global consequences for Earth’s climate.
“Southeast Asia is a really important part of the world. A large fraction of the world’s population lives there,” Brian Toon, a veteran of Nasa airborne campaigns, said on Nasa’s website.
“With SEAC4RS we hope to better understand how all these things interact,” he said.
Govt approval needed
SEAC4RS is expected to take to the field in August but will first have to win approval from the government of Thailand, where the flights will originate.
Nasa’s initiative comes as the US plans to move the bulk of its naval fleet to Asia-Pacific by 2020 as part of its strategy to enhance its regional presence.
US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta told an Asian security conference in Singapore on Saturday that 60 per cent of the US navy’s ships would be deployed in the Asia-Pacific region to rebalance its interests.
Yesterday Panetta began a trip to Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam, becoming the highest ranking US official to visit the former US military base since the war years.
He toured the navy supply ship USNS Byrd, which is berthed in the bay for maintenance, then travelled on to Hanoi for meetings with defence officials and Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung.
The talks were expected to focus on defence cooperation, maritime security, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.