Wuhan trip to clear engine doubts
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Wuhan trip to clear engine doubts

Navy team to inspect Chinese option for new submarine

A Yuan-class submarine built by China, which features an air-independent propulsion system. (Photo: Youtube)
A Yuan-class submarine built by China, which features an air-independent propulsion system. (Photo: Youtube)

The Royal Thai Navy will send a team of officers to observe performance tests on the Chinese-built CHD620 submarine engines between Feb 7 and March 4, a source in the RTN said.

The move comes as the RTN remains undecided on whether it will accept the engine -- which China Shipbuilding & Offshore International Co (CSOC) is pushing the navy to use on the S26T Yuan-class submarine it had ordered from the Wuhan-based shipyard -- as a substitute for a German-made MTU396 engine, which the navy had used before.

The contingent, led by RAdm Thiti Navanugraha, deputy director of the Royal Thai Naval Dockyard -- under orders from his brother, navy chief of staff Adm Chonlathis Navanugraha -- will head to Wuhan to inspect the second phase of testing on the Chinese-made CHD620 engine, the source said.

On Dec 15, the CSOC submitted the engine's specifications and performance parameters to the RTN, but the presentation appeared to have failed to convince the navy to take the offer.

The RTN previously said that as the first phase of tests was carried out on an engine prototype, there was not enough data for it to decide. It stressed the Chinese-made CHD620 engine must meet the Chinese navy's standards.

"This trip, which will take almost a month, will inform their decision, despite pressure from every direction," the source said.

On one hand, the navy is concerned the furore about the engine swap may have a negative impact on Thailand's relationship with China.

A number of opposition MPs from the Pheu Thai and Move Forward parties have pointed out the RTN's stance on the alternative shifted after Chinese President Xi Jinping visited the country for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) Summit in Bangkok between Nov 18 and 19.

They wondered if Mr Xi's visit, which included a meeting with Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha at Government House, had something to do with the shift because former navy chief Adm Somprasong Nilsamai had insisted on using the German-made MTU396 engine, the source said.

Concerns about the quality of the Chinese-made engine were also a factor which adds pressure on the RTN, especially since the CHD620 engine has come under criticism for its inferior quality.

To make matters worse, Gen Prayut had once said at a Defence Committee meeting that the CHD620 is in fact a submarine electric generator and is not meant to serve as a main engine.

Nonetheless, the RTN has yet to set a deadline for a decision.

These factors might be the reason why navy chief Adm Choengchai Chomchoengpaet has decided to postpone the purchase of a second and third submarine for the fourth year running, the source said.

Another reason could be cuts to the navy's annual budget, which was scaled down for three years due to the pandemic.

Early last year, Pheu Thai MPs claimed there were irregularities in the navy's submarine procurement programme, claiming the RTN was duped into buying vessels with no engines.

Yutthapong Charasathian, deputy Pheu Thai Party leader and MP for Maha Sarakham, took aim at the navy's plan to buy three submarines from China.

It has been a sensitive matter politically ever since.

The first submarine has been paid for with a sum of 13.5 billion baht. The submersible craft is due for delivery this year.

However, the procurement of two other submarines, valued at 22.5 billion baht, is still in limbo, according to a source in the navy.

Mr Yutthapong claimed the first submarine has no engines because China cannot manufacture diesel engines for submarines and will have to buy them from Germany.

Under the CSOC contract, the submarine must be powered by engines supplied by Germany's MTU, but the company refused to sell the engine to China, Mr Yutthapong said.

He then received information that the CSOC will replace Germany's engine with a Chinese-made engine for the submarine instead.

Thiti: Leads navy team

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