Defence Minister Sutin Klungsang says the navy will order a Chinese frigate instead of a Chinese submarine because the latter cannot have a German engine as Thailand originally specified.
The decision does not mean the submarine procurement has been cancelled, Mr Sutin said during a visit to navy headquarters on Friday. “The submarine project is not scrapped but will be shelved for a certain period. … It will resume when the country is ready.”
The original agreement signed in 2017 for the S26T Yuan-class submarine called for a German-made diesel engine, but Germany forbids such engines from being used in Chinese military and defence hardware. Beijing proposed a Chinese-made engine but Thailand expressed concerns that it would not be adequate.
Several rounds of negotiations ensued, with the Chinese side trying to persuade the navy that its engine would be up to the task. The navy finally concurred, and former chief Adm Choengchai Chomchoengpaet said last month that he would propose that the cabinet approve a sub with a Chinese-made engine.
However, the government insisted on sticking with a German engine and asked the navy to revise its project.
The navy came up with two proposals. One is to buy a frigate that can fight against submarines, and the other is to purchase an offshore patrol vessel.
Mr Sutin said that he and the government chose the frigate option which would cost 17 billion baht, 1 billion baht more than the submarine project.
“The frigate option will compromise the navy’s capability slightly when compared with a submarine project but the navy can accept it,” the defence minister said.
He said that Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin discussed the option this week in Beijing with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Li Qiang and the latter agreed to consider the Thai proposal.
Mr Sutin said he was aware that the building of the ordered submarine was partly completed, and expressed hope that China would find a way out as to what it would do with the vessel.
The submarine deal has been controversial ever since the navy signed the procurement agreement with state-owned China Shipbuilding & Offshore International in 2017. The deal bypassed any approval from the military-backed appointed legislature or the Office of the Auditor General.
Critics said the type of engine to be used in the submarines was just one of the problems with the deal. The real issue, they said, was whether such a vessel would be practical in the shallow territorial waters of Thailand, or whether a frigate would be more useful.