Navy claims lack of subs puts it at regional disadvantage

Navy claims lack of subs puts it at regional disadvantage

White paper meant to convince sceptical public lays out case for B36bn purchase

The navy is telling the public that the nation urgently needs submarines to be competitive regionally. (Photo by Tawatchai Kemgumnerd)
The navy is telling the public that the nation urgently needs submarines to be competitive regionally. (Photo by Tawatchai Kemgumnerd)

The Royal Thai Navy has published its position paper on why it sees an urgent need for submarines, arguing they’re necessary to maintain parity with neighbouring fleets.

Other Southeast Asian nations are strengthening their naval forces, some with submarines, and that put the Thai navy at disadvantage, according to the white paper sent to the press by assistant commander Narongpol Na Bangchang Thursday.

The white paper is the navy's first salvo in a renewed public-relations campaign meant to convince a public sceptical about both the cost of the submarines and the navy's need for them.

Singapore already has four active submarines and has contacted to buy two more from Sweden. Vietnam ordered six submarines from Russia with four already put into service. Indonesia already has two German-made submarines and is having three more built by South Korea for delivery in 2018. And Malaysia put two French-designed subs into operation in 2012.

Even if the navy was able to buy the subs this fiscal year, the regional gap would continue for years due to the time needed for construction and personnel training. The navy earlier estimated that, even if purchased before Sept 30, the subs would not be operational for eight years.

The navy estimated Thailand's marine assets are valued at about 24 trillion baht per year including natural resources, freight shipments, related industries and tourist destinations. Its 36-billion-baht budget for the submarines purchase and operational costs total only 0.006% of the value of the nation's marine interests, the white paper calculated.

The navy's submarine-procurement committee, headed by Adm Narong, wants to order three S26T submarines from China, a budget that would only allow them to buy a maximum of two from other countries.

The position paper stated that other reasons for choosing China were based on submarine capacities, technology, training, warranties, part supplies and delivery time.

The navy plans to spend 3-5 billion baht annually to maintain them.

The shallow Gulf of Thailand, with the average depth of 50 metres, would not impede the operations of the Chinese-made submarines with displacement of 2,600 tonnes because nuclear-fuelled submarines of the United States regularly conduct joint exercises with the Thai navy in the gulf, the paper said.

Without submarines, the Gulf of Thailand, which sees about 15,000 cargo vessels annually, was vulnerable to siege, it said.

Thailand had four submarines from 1938 to 1951, 64 years ago, the paper noted.

The navy white paper is available at the navy secretariat.

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