By Saksith Saiyasombut

In 2007 the military interim government has announced the purchase of 96 BTR-3E1 armored personnel carriers (APCs) worth THB 4bn (about $117m). And how many have been delivered to Thailand until now? None! The reasons were supposedly that the engines by German manufacturers Deutz tend to overheat.

But apart from the technical problems made in Germany according to Thai news sources there were also political ones.

Army representatives told ministers that the German government decided not to sell Deutz engines to Ukraine for the APCs because of Berlin’s policy of not selling armament to any country subject to political unrest, according to the source.

Cabinet backs purchase of APCs from Ukraine“, by Piyanart Srivalo, Satien Viriyapanpongsa & Samatcha Hoonsara, The Nation, September 8, 2010

However, the Thai government has cited additional reasons why the Germans refused to deliver the engines:

Deputy Prime Minister Trairong Suwannakiri said he had learned that a Muslim organisation had asked Germany not to sell the engines for the APCs because the vehicles could be used in suppression of Muslims in Thailand’s deep South.

Cabinet backs purchase of APCs from Ukraine“, by Piyanart Srivalo, Satien Viriyapanpongsa & Samatcha Hoonsara, The Nation, September 8, 2010

The policy mentioned has been adopted by the whole European Union (EU), as it has been pointed out by the German government in an answer to a minor interpellation by opposition MPs (PDF here, it is a really interesting read for those who can read German), it states in particular:

1. Each Member State shall assess the export licence applications made to it for items on the EU Common Military List mentioned in Article 12 on a case-by-case basis against the criteria of Article 2. [...]

Article 2 – Criteria

2. Criterion Two: Respect for human rights in the country of final destination as well as respect by that country of international humanitarian law.

- Having assessed the recipient country’s attitude towards relevant principles established by international human rights instruments, Member States shall:

(a) deny an export licence if there is a clear risk that the military technology or equipment to be exported might be used for internal repression; [...]

- Having assessed the recipient country’s attitude towards relevant principles established by instruments of international humanitarian law, Member States shall:

(c) deny an export licence if there is a clear risk that the military technology or equipment to be exported might be used in the commission of serious violations of international humanitarian law.

 3. Criterion Three: Internal situation in the country of final destination, as a function of the existence of tensions or armed conflicts.

Member States shall deny an export licence for military technology or equipment which would provoke or prolong armed conflicts or aggravate existing tensions or conflicts in the country of final destination.

Source: “COUNCIL COMMON POSITION 2008/944/CFSP of 8 December 2008: defining common rules governing control of exports of military technology and equipment” (PDF)

Taking the criteria into consideration any EU member country would find a case against Thailand and looking into the arms export reports of the German government, there were indeed rejected requests of arms exports to Ukraine in 2006 (PDF, page 23), 2007 (PDF, page 21) and 2008 (PDF, page 18), but no details were given about what was rejected and how much it was worth.

Additionally in 2007, the German government has also rejected requested exports to Thailand – again, it is unknown what was rejected and how much it was worth it.

However, despite all the political doubts and delivery delays, it did not stop the current government to make the sensible decision to order more – 121 additional APCs to be precise. But there’ll be some changes made from the original order:

The head of the Army’s ordnance department told Cabinet a recent test showed the MTU engine was of better quality than the Deutz unit. He also said a contract term allowed the Thai side to cancel the deal if any of the delivered vehicles did not meet standard requirements.

Cabinet backs purchase of APCs from Ukraine“, by Piyanart Srivalo, Satien Viriyapanpongsa & Samatcha Hoonsara, The Nation, September 8, 2010

The Thais want the better MTU engines in their new APCs, even though MTU is a German company. What is even more stunning is that during the weekend the Ukrainian ambassador to Thailand came out and gave an exact delivery date for the first units, which is this Friday. Also:

The Thai military, in conjunction with us, selected the MTU Mercedes,” [Ambassador] 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.”

First Ukrainian APCs here on Friday“, Bangkok Post, September 12, 2010

Just to recap, the original Deutz engine, made in Germany, were not delivered because of political concerns by the German government. The new engines are by MTU, also made in Germany. What’s the difference here?

When the first APCs will arrive in Thailand, a small chapter in the ongoing secret stories of arms procurement will be closed for now. But it is accompanied by other dubious army purchases such as grounded airships, jet fighters and the classic bogus GT200 device.

One last question: Why is the Thai army in a rush to buy over 100 more APCs with the first batch barely delivered? Possible answer:

The source said [Commander-in-chief] Gen Anupong wanted to push through the purchase of the additional 121 APCs before he retires in September.

Army wants more APCs from Ukraine“, by Wassana Nanuam, Bangkok Post, July 27, 2010

Saksith Saiyasombut is a Thai blogger and journalist based in Hamburg, Germany. You can follow him on Twitter @Saksith.