Navy wants 3 dockyards for submarines

Navy wants 3 dockyards for submarines

The Chinese-made HTMS Bangpakong is about to re-enter service after a refit shown to the media Monday at the Mahidol Adulyadej Naval Dockyard in Sattahip district, Chon Buri. (Photo by Apichart Jinakul)
The Chinese-made HTMS Bangpakong is about to re-enter service after a refit shown to the media Monday at the Mahidol Adulyadej Naval Dockyard in Sattahip district, Chon Buri. (Photo by Apichart Jinakul)

CHON BURI: The Royal Thai Navy is preparing to build facilities for docking and repairing three new submarines it plans to buy from China, a navy source says.

One area eyed for the construction will be located in the compound of Mahidol Adulyadej Naval Dockyard, the source said, adding Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwon was briefed on the details during his visit to the dockyard mONday.

The latest move reaffirms the navy's plan to acquire submarines, which has gained new life since the 2014 coup after the navy struggled for years to get governments to purchase six second-hand submarines from Germany.

The 40 rai area in Mahidol Adulyadej Naval Dockyard will house the repair and maintenance facility for the submarines.

The navy has already set its own 13.5-billion-baht budget to buy the first submarine and is now waiting for the cabinet to give a final thumbs-up, Gen Prawit said.

The cabinet is likely to give its approval this month for the purchase of a Chinese S26T submarine, a navy source said in January.

Progress on the submarine facility development satisfied Gen Prawit, who said the navy was acting for the sake of the country.

"In fact, the navy has long been ready to acquire submarines, but its plans were aborted following attacks by critics," he said.

Some said the Gulf of Thailand is too shallow for submarines, and the navy clarified that matter. "Yet some people still pretend they didn't understand," Gen Prawit said.

Submarines can be used for various purposes. One is an opportunity to "see and explore what is under our sea of 200 nautical miles", he said.

Gen Prawit, also Defence Minister, is among supporters of the submarine purchase.

He earlier said growing territorial threats and an increasing number of maritime missions has prompted the navy to strengthen its submarine units.

The navy has not had new submarines for more than 60 years. In 2011, it wanted to buy six German-made second-hand submarines at a cost of 7.7 billion baht, but the plan was shot down by the then Yingluck Shinawatra government.

Former defence minister Gen Yutthasak Sasiprapa also disagreed with the purchase, questioning its cost-effectiveness and transparency. In addition to criticism from opponents, political intervention was believed to be another factor setting back the plan.

Things improved for the navy after the 2014 coup. In 2015, a source quoted Gen Prawit as saying that if submarines were not bought by the current government, it would be difficult for the navy to get another chance.

The navy plans to buy three Chinese-made submarines at a cost of 36 billion baht. They will be stationed in both the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea.

Besides the maintenance facility at Mahidol Adulyadej Naval Dockyard, the navy also plans to build a submarine dockyard off the Sattahip coastline. The area will be a bay with a mountain in the background that will prevent submarines from being seen.

Because one of the three submarines must be on duty in the Andaman Sea, another dockyard is also planned in this area. The source said officers are considering a spot in Phangnga or Krabi.

Officers briefed Gen Prawit on the navy's research and development of its own vehicles to reduce its dependence on expensive exports. They include a two-seat naval aircraft costing about 5-7 million baht to make, about one or two times cheaper than a foreign aircraft, said R Adm Kritphon Rianglekchamnom, who leads a research team of this project.

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