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News Analysis: Thai navy eyes procuring submarines following shelved bid

(Source: Xinhua)   2015-01-06

  BANGKOK, Jan. 6 (Xinhua) -- Thailand's commanding naval admirals are once again reviving stalled efforts to procure submarines and have resolved recently to bring their efforts to fruition.

  Given unmet desires and sustained frustrations since their predecessors' era over the last six decades, some Thai admirals look to mean serious business in procuring the subs, with others concluding that it is only a matter of time, military observers say.

  Navy chief Admiral Kraisorn Chansuvanit made it public shortly after he had assumed the post several months earlier that he would immediately put the navy's 10-years "vision" to work between now and 2024.

  The plan calls for the long-delayed moves to buy several submarines from abroad, as well as projects related to the modernization and strengthening the muscles of its regular ships.

  The navy chief, scheduled to retire by the end of September 2016, had earlier sought and been given the green light from Deputy Premier and Defense Minister Gen. Prawit Wongsuwan for his submarine project, though it remains to be seen how much of the taxpayers' money will be allocated for it out of the 2016 budget.

  Kraisorn apparently hoped that the planned purchase of submarines, either newly-built or second-hand, will be realized during his time.

  Thailand used to have four Japanese-built subs during World War II and decommissioned them in 1951. The Southeast Asian country has had no other subs since.

  The fact that several ASEAN neighbors are currently deploying or have already ordered new subs from various manufacturing countries has upset the Thai navy commanders, who desperately wanted to add one or more to its regular fleet, said the observers.

  For instance, Singapore currently has four Sjoormen-class and two Vastergotland-class subs from Sweden in service, Malaysia has two French-made, Scorpene-class subs, Indonesia has two South Korean-made, Type 209-class subs in service plus three others on order and Vietnam has six Russian-made, Kilo-class subs.

  According to a navy officer, who only spoke on condition of anonymity, the navy needs to have submarines to strengthen its strategic defense capabilities and to protect the country's sea lines of communication, undersea natural resources, deep-sea ports, offshore oil exploration sites and tourist spots along the shores, as well as island resorts in its maritime territory.

  "The Thai navy is strategically obliged to safeguard the Gulf of Thailand, the Andaman Sea and maritime areas in proximity to the Strait of Malacca where national interests and territorial integrity could possibly be at stake at any time."

  "Submarines are considered one of the most potent weapon systems to use against hostile forces, which could theoretically lay siege in the Gulf of Thailand to deny the deployment of our surface ships to the high seas," he said.

  Prawit earlier told Kraisorn to come up with a detailed study on his submarine project so that it may be presented to the military-led government for endorsement and then be forwarded to parliament for final approval.

  The non-elected government under Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o- cha is widely expected to last throughout this year or until the early part of next year until a nationwide election is held.

  Though it will likely take several years, if not a decade, of lead time from the date on which an order for Thai subs is placed with a foreign shipbuilder, until the date of their delivery, the whole deal could possibly be concluded within this year, military observers said.

  Prices for a submarine may vary from less than 200 million U.S. dollars to more than 500 million U.S. dollars, not only depending on the type of the boat, its technological edges and service age but the country or shipbuilding firm which manufactures it.

  Though a second-hand sub could possibly cost less than 50 million U.S. dollars, the admirals would prefer a newly-built sub which will have a longer service age than a used one, so that they will not have to spend too much on repairs and maintenance.

  Former defense minister ACM Sukumpol Suwanatat, attached to a previous civilian government, decided to scrap the Thai navy's 2013 bid to buy four Type 206 second-hand subs from Germany for a combined price of some 5.5 billion U.S. dollars though dozens of navy officers had been assigned to the European country and South Korea where they attended submarine training courses, which lasted eight months and two months respectively.

  Nevertheless, Germany and South Korea apparently remained as favorite manufacturers of the subs sought by the Thai navy while Russia, Sweden and France, among others, emerged as second choices, the observers commented.

  South Korea's Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering is known to manufacture variants of Germany's Type 209 subs not only for the South Korean navy but for export to other navies.

  Noticeably, the fact that Thailand already ordered two Gwanggaeto-class stealth frigates from Daewoo might underline the probability of the South Korean sub being considered as a first choice by the Thai navy.

  The Chang Bogo-class sub is said to cost an estimated 330 million U.S. dollars, compared to more than 450 U.S. dollars for a German-built Type 214 sub.

  "We already set up a submarine squadron in Sattahip but ironically we have no sub available to be used by the unit," said the navy officer, referring to part of the Naval Fleet headquarters which was turned into facilities for a submarine simulator and training programs.

Editor:Guo Renjie
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