KMDB BTR-3E1 (photo : dopns)
Govt eager to okay big-ticket items ahead of army chief's retirement, despite Controversies,Several controversial major military procurements and projects have been endorsed or are awaiting approval ahead of the coming retirement of army chief Gen Anupong Paojinda.
They include a new infantry division in the North; a 5 billion baht procurement for 121 armoured personnel carriers; and a 350 million baht reconnaissance airship.
Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon has approved the army chief's proposal to spend 10 billion baht on developing a new infantry division in Chiang Mai to secure the northern border with Burma and Laos, suppress drugs and cope with red shirt protesters, according to an army source.
Gen Anupong, who will retire at the end of September, assigned the 3rd Army late last year to study the establishment of the 7th Infantry Division based in Chiang Mai. The new division will have 25,000 soldiers.
The establishment of the infantry division will cost about 10 billion baht. The spending will take five years and start next year.
At present, the North has only the 1st Cavalry Division in Phitsanulok and the 4th Infantry Division in Nakhon Sawan with 20,000 soldiers in total who must secure the border with Laos and Burma for a distance of nearly 1,000km from Tak to Phitsanulok. Some of the soldiers were deployed to secure the strongholds of red shirt protesters and the opposition Puea Thai Party in the North, the source said. The military helps the government confront protesters and is rewarded with opportunities to order weaponry.
Controversies over the wisdom of the purchases tends to be ignored, such is the government's eagerness to please.
An army committee yesterday accepted the cameras and downlink system of a 350 million baht reconnaissance airship even though many problems have emerged with the imported airship.
The airship was officially accepted on May 27. It was unable to reach the altitude of a kilometre needed to take it out of range of M16 rifles. It also leaks through its seams.
"Only one month of the original one-year warranty remains as the procurement contract of the airship was signed in August last year," the source said.
He said the acceptance of the communication system followed lobbying by the supplier, who promised to replace the problematic airship with a new one, or take it for an overhaul in the US.
If the supplier breaks his promise, the army will have to pay 55 million baht for repairs after the warranty expires.
Other controversies include the army's order for 96 BTR-3E1 wheeled armoured personnel carriers.
According to a source, Gen Anupong plans to ask the cabinet next week to approve in principle another order for 121 more BTR-3E1 APCs worth nearly 5 billion baht from the Ukraine.
The order is planned even though the army encountered problems with the first 96 BTR-3E1 armoured personnel carriers worth 3.9 billion baht from the same supplier.
The order was criticised for lacking transparency.
It was proposed to former defence minister Boonrawd Somtas of the Surayud Chulanont government but Gen Boonrawd did not sign for the procurement project.
Later Gen Anupong sought approval from former prime minister Samak Sundaravej who was concurrently the defence minister. He approved, to please the army.
However, since 2007 the Ukraine supplier, which is represented in Thailand by Datagate Thailand Co, has been unable to deliver the personnel carriers to the Thai army.
Originally the Ukraine company proposed the carriers be equipped with Deutz engines and transmission systems from Germany but the engine and transmission manufacturer refused to supply its products, citing concerns over the 2006 coup.
The Ukraine switched to offering MTU engines from Germany and Allison transmission systems from the United States.
Lt Gen Ekachai Watcharaprateep, the director-general of the army's Ordnance Department, who was a pre-cadet classmate of Gen Anupong, said the Ukraine will deliver two personnel carriers in September and will complete the rest of the delivery next year.
When red shirt protesters rallied last March, Gen Anupong sought cabinet approval to import six Mi-17 helicopters worth about 2 billion baht from Russia.
Last year the army chief ordered three Black Hawk helicopters worth 2 billion baht.
He has just sought 134 million baht to order 1,200 Mini Tavor rifles for special warfare soldiers and the 1st Army.
Soon the army will seek cabinet consent to import 16 Enstrom 480B light helicopters worth 1.2 billion baht from the US.