Sub swap proposal 'must stay in budget'

Sub swap proposal 'must stay in budget'

The government's plan to procure alternative armaments instead of a submarine is reasonable as long as it keeps within budget, according to the House committee on national security.

The remark was made by the committee chair, Move Forward Party (MFP) MP Rangsiman Rome, after the panel's visit to the defence permanent secretary's office, where he met Defence Minister Sutin Klungsang and armed forces leaders on Monday.

Mr Rangsiman made an appointment to see the minister last week. The committee put several queries to Mr Sutin, including the plan by the navy to swap its planned procurement of a Chinese submarine for a frigate.

The switch was prompted by China's inability to acquire a German engine for the submarine the navy had ordered. Berlin cited regulatory restrictions preventing engines it produces from being used in Chinese military hardware.

Mr Sutin said the government has settled on procuring a frigate instead of a submarine, although the new deal is estimated to cost a billion baht more.

On Monday, Mr Rangsiman said the public would understand the merit of the switch if the navy was able to justify it. People would not object as long as a deal swap does not exceed the budget earmarked for the 16-billion-baht submarine.

The House committee appeared to soften its tone after the meeting with Mr Sutin. The MFP has been openly critical of what it calls a splurge on weapon procurements by the military and vowed to rein in such spending.

Mr Rangsiman added that he believed the Defence Ministry was perceptive to public concerns about the submarine purchase deal.

The House committee was open to an exchange of information about buying a submarine if the ministry insisted on owning one in the future. The panel will gain more understanding through talks and consultations, he said.

The panel acknowledged the sensitivity surrounding the deal switch, which has a bearing on bilateral relations with China. Mr Rangsiman said Mr Sutin assured him the government would handle the matter in a way that would minimise impacts on ties. Mr Rangsiman said the committee also raised the emergency decree imposed in the far South in discussions with Mr Sutin.

He said the military argued in favour of maintaining the decree currently in effect across most parts of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat and parts of Songkhla.

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