The army will delay its 4.5 billion baht procurement of a second batch of 50 US-made Stryker armoured infantry carriers to the next fiscal year as part of the Defence Ministry’s 18 billion baht budget cut to help the Covid-19 outbreak fight.
The move was confirmed by army chief Apirat Kongsompong on Wednesday. Gen Apirat was responding to media reports citing an announcement by the army’s Ordnance Department regarding the planned purchase of 50 armoured vehicles.
It sparked criticism over the army’s spending at a time when the country is struggling to cope with the economic impact of the virus outbreak.
On Monday, the army’s Ordnance Department published a detailed plan to buy 50 armoured vehicles with weapons and a technical service package by means of foreign military sales (FMS) at a cost of 4.5 billion baht.
The Thai-US FMS procurement scheme, in which the Thai army will receive about 130 armoured vehicles, was endorsed and set to be approved by parliament this fiscal year.
However, the army has decided to defer the scheme to thenext fiscal year and give the money to the government to help it fight Covid-19 first, said Gen Apirat.
Under this contract, the US Army would give about 80 armoured vehicles to the Thai army for free, he said.
The Defence Ministry has slashed its budget for fiscal year 2020 by 18 billion baht, more than half from the army’s budget, and returned the funds to the government, army spokesman Col Winthai Suvaree said.
The budget cut has resulted in several weapons and military hardware procurement projects being shelved and the tie-over budget this fiscal year being trimmed, said Col Winthai.
Earlier last year, the army struck a deal to buy the first batch of 37 “refurbished” US-made Strykers for 80 million baht each (2.9 billion baht in total), but under the contract, the US Army would give 23 more Strykers to the Thai army for free, bringing the number to 60 in total, said an army source.
These Strykers came in mixed models — namely M1126, M1127 and M1129 — and with a training package and maintenance to be carried out in Thailand, plus Stryker training for Thai soldiers in the US, said the source.
The 18 billion baht budget cut has resulted in four major projects, including the planned purchases of tanks, artillery and military radar systems, as well as 26 other smaller projects being delayed, said Col Winthai.
Those projects in which contracts have already been signed now face a 50% budget cut, he said.
The 900 million baht tied-over budget originally to be paid out this fiscal year in connection with the purchase of the first batch of Strykers, for instance, was halved to 450 million baht, Col Winthai said.
Reports about the speculated new purchase of Strykers contained errors, which possibly stemmed from incomplete information obtained by some media outlets, he said.
This procurement project was secured thanks to the good relations between the Thai and US armies, he said.
Most recently, the US Army provided for free various types of bullets worth US$600,000 million and flown Thai students left stranded in the US back home last week free of charge as well, he said.
Gen Apirat admitted the budget cut would inevitably affect the army’s human resources development.
But the army would try its best to make the best out the limited resources, deputy army spokeswoman Col Sirichan Ngathong said on Wednesday.
Gen Apirat also warned those Facebook pages publishing false information about the army’s affairs to correct their reports because the army doesn’t want to take legal action at the moment, said Col Sirichan.
Opposition Pheu Thai Party spokesman Anusorn Iamsa-ard, asked why the army has to continue buying weapons, especially while the country was hurting from the Covid-19 outbreak.
He urged the army to prioritise its procurement projects and put the money to better use.