12 September 2010
The APC factory in Ukraine (photo : Bangkok Post)
The first two of the controversial Ukrainian-made BTR-3E1 armoured personnel carriers (APCs) will be handed over at U-tapao airfield next Friday.
Ukraine's ambassador Markiian Chuchuk said the vehicles, the first of 96 ordered by the Royal Thai Armed Forces at a cost of close to 4 billion baht, would be delivered by a giant Ilyushin IL-76 plane.
"Only a few weeks ago a delegation of Thai military officials visited Ukraine to observe the manufacturing process, and they were very satisfied," he said.
The APCs, ordered by former military commander General Sonthi Boonyaratkalin and intended for use in the troubled South, have been dogged by controversy after Germany refused to supply the Deutz engine for them following the 2006 coup.
But Mr Chuchuk said since the official contract was signed in July 2008, new engines had been sourced from MTU Mercedes and Ukraine would meet the deadline to supply all the vehicles by the end of next year.
"The Thai military, in conjunction with us, selected the MTU Mercedes," Mr Chuchuk said. "It has better specifications than the original engine - better speed and acceleration - and we conducted tests and trials witnessed by the Thai military, and they were satisfied."
As part of the contract, Ukraine also guarantees the supply of spare parts and maintenance for three years. Training will also be provided, with several teams of Thai military personnel due to arrive in Ukraine this month.
"First will be mechanics, followed by gunners and drivers. All of them will have different kinds of courses. After they return to Thailand, they will be able to train others, so Ukraine is training the future trainers," Mr Chuchuk said.
He said criticism of the APCs in the local press may have been orchestrated by one of the rival bidders for the project with "misleading" reports about Ukraine's ability to produce modern military vehicles repeated in the media.