Time to step into sub deal
The government should have stepped in when a party contracted by the state failed to meet its obligations.
It should have stood firm on its demands and insisted on calling for a fresh round of bidding if that party could not provide what they had promised in the contract.
Those were the public's expectations of the government in the procurement of three S26T Yuan-class submarines by the Royal Thai Navy, the 36-billion-baht deal for which was signed in 2017.
To date, the government has paid China Shipbuilding & Offshore International (CSOC) about seven billion baht in instalments, and the navy is expecting to receive the first submarine in 2024.
The problems began to arise when the Chinese shipbuilding firm notified the RTN that it wouldn't be able to fit any of its Yuan-class submarines with the German-made MTU396 engines as specified by the contract.
RTN insisted on using these engines as the navy has a long history of using German components, which its top brass believe are safe and reliable as they have been fitted on other similar submarines.
In a bid to solve the problem, CSOC offered the CHD620 as a replacement. The problem was not even China's own navy was using that particular engine in its fleet -- the only country that has agreed to fit this engine on their submarines is Pakistan, who will receive their submarines from CSOC next year.
Navy chief Adm Choengchai Chomchoengpaet said this week that RTN will invite CSOC and China's naval attaché to meet at the end of this month or early next month.
All eyes will be on this meeting, as the RTN recently disclosed that according to the terms of the procurement contract, CSOC is allowed to make changes to the product as long as they meet the specifications outlined in the deal.
The navy chief also said RTN is communicating with its counterpart in Pakistan about its experience with the Yuan submarine. It is unclear what type of information our navy can get from Pakistan, considering Islamabad will only receive its submarines next year.
It is worth noting that in September, the RTN tested the CHD620 engine and refused to approve it as a replacement over reliability concerns.
Instead of letting the RTN talk with CSOC alone and monopolise all negotiations, it is about time the government, or even the House of Representatives, step in to monitor the negotiation and procurement process.
There are questions needed to be answered; for instance, what is the RTN planning to do with the remaining two submarines for which it has yet to pay?
But the real question is whether RTN is going to call off the deal if it cannot get the specification it needs.
Without a doubt, the RTN needs to modernise its fleet. Even our neighbour Myanmar has one. But it doesn't mean the RTN can do whatever it wants and rush into the deal in a desperate move to buy the submarines that any seller is willing to sell.
Thailand has a history of acquiring weapon systems that it cannot afford to use or maintain, whether they are advanced jet fighters, an aircraft carrier -- like HTMS Chakri Naruebet, which is used only occasionally and primarily for disaster relief, as Thailand's last Harrier jet was taken out of service in 2006 -- or the 350-million-baht airship that was later grounded.
The last thing that taxpayers want to see is navy soldiers boarding a submarine whose quality even its makers cannot guarantee.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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