More China arms deals taking shape
Army chief denies West out of favour
More Chinese armaments are likely to be procured by the government, says the army commander in chief, while denying Thailand has shifted policy to procure military hardware from China rather than Western countries.
Gen Chalermchai Sittisat said the government was also mulling a Thai-Chinese joint venture to start a defence and weapons industry in Thailand.
More purchases of military hardware from China may help shape the policy, he said.
The army chief denied speculation the armed forces have switched to China after relying on the United States and Western nations for such deals, saying several factors would be taken into account.
The US-made M-41 tanks purchased since 1957 would soon need to be decommissioned and the army would have to find new ones to replace them, he said.
"So, this has nothing to do with whether the army will shift to purchasing weapons from China as some have speculated. But the point is Thailand wants to create a new industry in the country... and we have to make this happen," he said.
Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwon wants to see a defence and weapons industry in Thailand develop steadily, starting with less complicated weapons and moving on to the more advanced ones, said Gen Chalermchai.
"After visiting China, Gen Prawit agreed China is suitable because the prices of its weapons aren't high. And as Thailand's friend, China can understand Thailand in several contexts. If China agrees to make a joint investment with us on this project, China will become like our adviser," said Gen Chalermchai.
The army had signed an agreement to purchase 28 VT-4 tanks from China and in the second phase would procure more such tanks until it has a full fleet of 49 tanks in fiscal year 2017.
After problems with the delivery of 49 Oplot tanks ordered from Ukraine, the army committee which decides on military hardware procurements has opted to cut the number of tanks to be bought from Ukraine and buy more from China instead, he said.
The problem facing the Ukrainian supplier was due mainly to Ukraine's internal situation, he said.
However, the Ukrainian tank maker should be able to deliver all 49 tanks to the Thai army by October, 2017, according to Gen Chalermchai.
An army source said the army also has drawn up a plan to procure several more fleets of 49 VT-4 tanks to replace US-made ones that need to be decommissioned.
Military hardware produced in the US and other Western countries is high quality but also expensive.
"In any procurement, the budget is also a key factor to put into account."
Still, the US had previously not offered to sell weapons to Thailand due to the US's own legal restrictions on selling weapons to Thailand since the coup, he said.
What's more, several other countries in this region had also turned to Chinese-made military hardware, he said.
A source at the navy, meanwhile, said the navy's proposal to purchase the first Chinese-made S26T submarine at a cost of 12 billion baht is expected to be sent to the cabinet for approval by no later than March.
The first Chinese-made submarine is expected to be bought during fiscal year 2017, while two more are expected to be procured under an 11-year plan.
In total, 36 billion baht in budget will be needed for the three submarines, said the source.
The proposed submarine purchase has been delayed repeatedly in the past though signs are it could now finally get a push-along.