Navy denies hosting Nasa gear
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Navy denies hosting Nasa gear

Agency's website claim takes govt by surprise

The Royal Thai Navy has denied that the US government's space agency has had aircraft or research equipment delivered to U-tapao airport in Rayong.

Royal Thai Fleet commander Kanat Thongpoon dismissed as baseless reports that US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) equipment is already being housed in the naval airbase in anticipation of the agency's proposed climate studies project, yet to be approved by the cabinet.

"It is absolutely untrue. No equipment is here. The navy must be informed of any thing coming in. There is no [Nasa] aircraft here," he said.

The official calendar of the proposed research mission on the Nasa website refers to equipment having been shipped to Thailand more than five weeks ago. Screen capture by from official Nasa website.

He was responding to a claim that the US space agency began shipping equipment to Thailand on May 18 for its proposed project to conduct atmospheric studies in the South and Southeast Asia region using U-tapao as its base. (Continued after the graphic)

Adm Kanat said that he was not aware of this information posted on the website of the agency.

"We have only US aircraft filling up at U-tapao, which is in accordance with a long-standing agreement," he said.

Adm Kanat also said the subject of Nasa's request to use the airbase did not come up when he met Cecil D Haney, commander of the US Pacific Fleet, at Sattahip naval base on Friday.

The Nasa request to base its weather-research project at U-tapao airbase has raised concerns that the US might be using the high-technology research project as a front for military purposes.

The cabinet is expected to press ahead with approving the request tomorrow after postponing a decision in the wake of growing criticism of the absence of details about the project.

Critics are urging the government to submit the Nasa project to parliament for scrutiny to make sure it does not affect the country's sovereignty.

Nasa has sent a letter asking the government to provide an answer by tomorrow, or it will cancel its Southeast Asia Composition, Cloud, Climate Coupling Regional Study campaign.

The study is expected to be conducted in August and September, and Nasa has said it needs to prepare early.

The Science Ministry said it is ready to explain the technicalities of the project if it is tabled to the cabinet.

Science and Technology Minister Plodprasop Suraswadi said he has the details of the project and can provide the information if the matter comes up in tomorrow's cabinet meeting.

Mr Plodprasop rejected Democrat spokesman Chavanond Intarakomalyasut's claim about an ER-2 aircraft that would be used to conduct the study.

The aircraft, a modified design of Lockheed's U-2 aircraft, can climb to an altitude of 21 kilometres _ where radar can no longer detect it _ leading to concerns about the possibility of the plane being used for spycraft.

Mr Plodprasop said whether a flight can carry out a spying mission depends on the equipment it carries, not on the capabilities of the aircraft itself.

A recent Assumption University poll showed 63.5 % of its respondents did not oppose the use of U-tapao naval airbase for Nasa's climate study project.

The opinion poll was carried out among a sample of 1,824 people in 17 provinces from last Monday to Saturday.

Mr Chavanond yesterday questioned why the government was keeping silent about Nasa's plans.

He said Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul relied on American information to make his decisions without bothering to make his own inquiries.

"Why did the US do all the talking? It claimed Singapore and Cambodia granted permission to use their airspace. Why don't we ask them," he said.

Mr Chavanond also hinted that the Yingluck Shinawatra administration may be colluding with the US.

"What is the May 18 shipping about? How is that shipping possible if there is no agreement?" he said.

He said the foreign minister lied when he claimed China allowed Nasa to conduct a similar project in Hong Kong.

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