Army seeks to buy Russian helicopters

Army seeks to buy Russian helicopters

Prawit insists govt not favouring any country

The Mil Mi-17V5
The Mil Mi-17V5 "Hip" helicopter, seen here at Don Mueang Air Force Base during an air show, is the export version of the popular gunship with on-board 57mm rocket pods, with room for guns and an 8-man infantry squad. (Creative Commons via Wikipedia)

The Royal Thai Army plans to purchase Mi-17V5 helicopters from Russia due to the shortage of aircraft for disaster mitigation and troop deployment.

Army commander-in-chief Teerachai Nakwanich said Tuesday the purchase of the Russian military transport helicopters is needed as the army lacks planes to replace the American CH-47 Chinook, a supply transport aircraft.

The remarks came as Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha left for Russia for an official visit.

Gen Teerachai said the army did not have the money to procure new aircraft carriers. Therefore, the lowest purchase budget was requested from the government.

A military source said that the army proposed buying a total of 12 Mi-17V5 helicopters and is awaiting approval from the cabinet, which will assess the size of the budget to be allocated for this purpose.

The army chief did not disclose the price of the Russian helicopters but some international media outlets reported last year that India planned to buy the same carrier for about US$23 million (about 800 million baht) each.

Gen Teerachai added the army also bought VT4 tanks from China, saying he went to China earlier to look at the tanks and believed the price tag was reasonable considering their quality.

"The price and quality of the Chinese VT4 are suitable, according to the army's committee. I didn't examine the tanks alone but also sent several officers to check on them many times," he said.

Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon insisted Thailand has bought military equipment from several countries such as Russia, China and the United States, and does not play favourites with any specific country.

Gen Prayut will be in Russia until Saturday, where he will attend the Asean-Russia Commemorative Summit in Sochi from Thursday to Saturday.

A bilateral meeting will also be held to enhance relations between the countries and celebrate their 120th anniversary of diplomatic relations in 2017.

Meanwhile, Chaiwat Khamchoo, a professor at Chulalongkorn University's Faculty of Political Science, said the prime minister's Russia visit has nothing to do with pressure from the US, which has taken a step back in its relationship with Thailand following the coup.

He said the meeting had been prepared a long time ago.

"Thailand is run by a military government. Therefore, western countries have some limits in their relations with us. That's why we have to buy military equipment from China and Russia instead," he said.

Mr Chaiwat, however, said people should think about the reason behind the government's move to buy equipment from these powerful countries, based on how strategic and necessary they are for Thailand.

"The government has claimed the purchase is necessary so the aircraft can be used for emergencies like disaster mitigation. But the actual reason behind it has to be considered as well."

Whether or not the Thai government was elected by the public, it must stick with a foreign policy which maintains relations with every country, he said.

"In fact, the US has not quite cut off all relations with Thailand. It is only unable to keep 100% relations when it comes to military or security affairs."

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