21 Februari 2010
Korea's Type 209 Changbogo class (photo : bin2k1)
Thai Navy Seeks Second-Hand Submarines
The Royal Thai Navy (RTN) has submitted a proposal to government to procure two second-hand submarines from 2011, a senior RTN officer has told Jane's.
Securing the budget for such a purchase - which has been earmarked by the RTN at around THB20 billion (USD603 million) - remains the biggest stumbling block, he said, although the RTN is hopeful that the bid will be approved by the government over the next few weeks following a series of strong representations from RTN officials.
The source, who has been involved in composing the proposal, said the RTN was open-minded about the supplier of the submarines, stating that the required capability plan was still being finalised. He indicated, however, that South Korean-made Type 209s were the most likely target.
"We have been talking to South Korea about this purchase for a long time and just two weeks ago the South Korean government offered us two Type 209s," he said on 18 February, "but we are not ready to make a decision because we don't yet have the funds.
"The source also revealed that China's People's Liberation Army Navy in late 2009 repeated an offer to sell to Thailand two Type 039 Song-class submarines. The source said that, unlike the offer from South Korea, the Chinese boats would need extensive modernisation before they were operational.
He also said that submarines from France and Russia were also being considered, although he indicated that platforms from South Korea and China were a more probable purchase.
The source also stressed that the RTN's requirements were not just tied to the submarines themselves. As Thailand does not currently operate any such vessels, a budget would also need to be allocated to building a submarine base, which would probably be located at the RTN's main base in Sattahip, around 180 km southeast of Bangkok.
Thailand's last serious bid to procure submarines ended in May 1996 when the government announced that due to financial pressures it would not follow up on a project to acquire two or three Swedish Kockums platforms at an estimated cost of around USD500 million.
While similar economic challenges exist today the RTN believes that the purchase has become necessary because Thailand's neighbours have all made recent submarine acquisitions.
These developments have seen Malaysia purchase two Scorpene submarines, both of which were commissioned in 2009; Singapore relaunch the first of two Västergötland-class (A 17) submarines in June 2009; Vietnam enter a deal with Russia in 2009 to purchase six Project 877EKM ('Kilo'-class) boats; and Indonesia, which already operates two Type 209-class submarines, announce that it will purchase two more platforms over the next two years, possibly from South Korea or Russia.
Possibly in response to this build-up, in September 2009 the RTN secured funds to procure as yet unspecified anti-submarine warfare (ASW) systems for the RTN's six Sikorsky S-70B7 Seahawk helicopters. Jane's understands that additional ASW equipment is also planned in the RTN's spending proposal.
Dr Panitan Wattanayagorn, spokesman for Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, told Jane's that the RTN's purchase proposal - along with that of the army and air force - would be evaluated by various budget committees over the next few weeks for consideration in the Fiscal Year 2011 budget, which commences in October 2010. Decisions on this budget will be made in May.
He said that to get the submarine purchase proposal through these reviews "it might be necessary for the RTN to re-arrange their priorities and negotiate with the two other services".