01 Agustus 2015
Royal Thai Navy fleet group (phoro : mdc)
THE NAVY has released a nine-page document detailing what it says are the reasons why the country needs to spend Bt36 billion on buying three submarines from China.
The move came after Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha suspended the procurement of the Yuan Class S26T submarines and told the Navy to explain to the public the necessity of protecting the country's marine interests and why it wanted to buy the subs.
In the document, drafted on the order of Navy chief Admiral Kraisorn Chansuwanit, the Navy stated that Thailand's maritime interests amounted to Bt24 trillion per year with an increasing value. They include marine natural resources, marine transport, downstream industries and tourism.
The submarines would be only 0.006 per cent of the total marine interests because they could be used for at least 30 years, the Navy stated.
Almost 95 per cent of the country's imports and exports are transported by sea, it said, adding that about 15,000 cargo vessels passed through the Gulf of Thailand per year. If the gulf, which is 400 kilometres wide, were blocked, as happened during World War II, the country would be badly affected.
The Navy said although there was no war looming, maritime conflicts between countries existed and no one could guarantee that the conflicts would not descend into wars. Having the submarines would be a defensive strategy against wars and a balance of power mechanism.
In terms of its marine capability, the country is lagging 10 years behind neighbouring countries like Singapore, Vietnam and Indonesia.
In response to claims the Yuan Class S26T would not be useful because it can only dive in shallow water and are easy targets for enemies, the Navy argued that the Gulf of Thailand is about 50 metres deep and some operations need to be done near the shore. Planes cannot see submarines which dive down 20 metres, it said.
The Navy said it wanted to buy the submarine because it was efficient and the most value for money. Five other countries would provide only two submarines for Bt36 billion.
The Chinese submarine also had air-independent propulsion that enabled it to stay under water for 21 days compared with subs from other countries that had to emerge to charge batteries every four or five days.
The Chinese subs are also equipped with weapons, including torpedoes and sea mines, the Navy said, adding that their safety is on par with European submarines with a double-hull body.
China also offered eight years of parts service and a two-year guarantee on all equipment in the sub, while other countries offered only a one-year guarantee. China would also transfer knowledge on the sub maintenance, its systems and weapons.
The Navy said the Bt36-billion fund would be paid through instalments over seven to 10 years, or around Bt3 billion to 5 billion per year depending on how much each instalment was set at. The money would not be taken from the central fund or special funds but the Navy's annual budget allocation from the government.
The document was released in response to the government's order for the Navy to explain the plan.
Former Democrat Party MP Watchara Petthong disapproved of the purchase, saying it would be unnecessary spending given the condition of the country's coffers and economy.
"I wonder if the move to push for the sub purchase has something to do with the commission fee,'' he said.