Type 206A submarines of German Navy (photo : Militaryphotos)
Navy chief Kamthorn Phumhiran is insisting on pushing ahead with the plan to procure six second-hand submarines from Germany, dismissing the other option of buying brand-new South Korean ones as being too expensive.
Adm Kamthorn yesterday said he would go ahead with the navy's original plan. It would be presented to the Defence Council chaired by Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon next week.
Gen Prawit had earlier voiced his support for the idea of acquiring two brand-new submarines from South Korea. He believed they would last longer than the decommissioned German ones.
The six Type U-206A coastal patrol submarines have been in use in Germany for more than 30 years and Adm Kamthorn admitted they had only another six or seven years of useful life left.
Though the South Korean Type U209 submarine is made using German technology, Adm Kamthorn said it is too big, with a displacement of 1,200 tonnes. "They also cost up to 13 billion baht each," he said.
Although the navy included the option of buying South Korean submarines in its feasibility study, it does not have enough money to buy the two new ones.
"It is most practical to buy the second-hand ones at a cost of 7.7 billion baht," said Adm Kamthorn, who also played down concerns over the usefulness of the submarines in Thai waters. "The navy has to take care of Thailand's marine interests valued at 900 billion baht a year. An investment of 7.7 billion baht will be worth it," he said.
If Thailand fails to secure the six submarines, the opportunity may go to Chile or Colombia, which are also interested in striking a deal with Germany, said navy Assistant Chief of Staff for Operations Thawiwut Phongphiphat.
A navy source said other countries in Southeast Asia have already strengthened their navies with submarines. Malaysia deploys two French-made ones, Singapore has four and Vietnam has three, with a plan to buy six more from Russia. Even Burma has already had its soldiers trained in submarine operations.
If the Defence Council and later the cabinet approve the navy's purchase plan, the first batch of 30 navy officers will be sent for a year of training in Germany before Thailand receives the submarines, said Vice Adm Thawiwut.
"The navy doesn't want to have these submarines, we need them," Adm Kamthorn said. "They are weapons for protection. They may be small, but a small cobra can bite a bigger person to death."
Two subs would be deployed in the Gulf of Thailand and two in the Andaman Sea, with the others as replacements.